Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
Manchester United’s midfielder Christian Eriksen fights for the ball with Nottingham Forest’s defender Serge Aurier during their English League Cup semifinal first-leg match, at The City Ground stadium, in Nottingham on Jan. 25, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 27 January 2023

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading

Sancho could return from Man Utd exile to face Reading
  • Sancho has struggled to reach peak form since moving from Borussia Dortmund
  • Sancho last played for United in October's 1-1 draw at Chelsea and was left out of England's World Cup squad

LONDON: Erik ten Hag is set to end Jadon Sancho’s Manchester United exile as the England forward eyes his first appearance in 14 weeks against Reading in the FA Cup fourth round.
Sancho has struggled to reach peak form since moving from Borussia Dortmund and Ten Hag claimed he was not mentally or physically ready to feature for United earlier this season.
The 22-year-old was sent to do an individual fitness program in the Netherlands rather than travel to the squad’s training camp in Spain during the World Cup last year.
But Sancho resumed group training last Tuesday having returned to Carrington earlier in January and could be involved when second tier Reading visit Old Trafford on Saturday.
“He is training with the team and we will see,” Ten Hag told reporters on Friday.
“So, he’s improving, he’s making steps and we will make the decision after training.”
Sancho last played for United in October’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea and was left out of England’s World Cup squad.
He has failed to justify the hype that saw him hailed as one of Europe’s brightest young stars when he moved to United in 2021.
“I said he’s on the way back, he’s making steps. He’s back in team training and now we have to see when he’s ready to go back into the games,” Ten Hag said.
United have flourished in Sancho’s absence, climbing into the Premier League’s top four and advancing in both domestic cup competitions.
Chasing the club’s first major trophy since 2017, United won 3-0 at Nottingham Forest in the League Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday.
That result means Ten Hag could rest key players in next week’s second leg, but the Dutchman will also be tempted to rotate against a Reading side managed by former United midfielder Paul Ince.
“Football is never decided on paper, we have to be ready for every game, every opponent will be tough and especially in the cup,” Ten Hag said.
“That is, for them, a perfect chance. We have to be aware of that. We have to be on the front foot, fully focused and full of energy.
“I think tomorrow we will have a strong selection for this game.”


Saudi Women’s U-17 national team captain aims to inspire Saudi girls

Saudi Women’s U-17 national team captain aims to inspire Saudi girls
Updated 01 April 2023

Saudi Women’s U-17 national team captain aims to inspire Saudi girls

Saudi Women’s U-17 national team captain aims to inspire Saudi girls
  • At 16, Majd Alotaibi is one of the youngest players in the women’s First Division

RIYADH: Majd Alotaibi is dreaming big.

The captain of the U-17 Saudi Women’s National Football Team — established in February —hopes to inspire other girls across the Kingdom and dreams of winning the FIFA World Cup with the Green Falcons.  

The U-17 team, led by Croatian coach Stella Gutal, consists of 28 players and is captained by Alotaibi, who is one of the youngest players in the Saudi women’s First Division, in which she represents Al-Yamamah FC.

Alotaibi started playing football in 2013, aged six, in a team coached by her father, who was a professional football player himself.   

“My dad used to be a player so I felt like football was in my blood,” Alotaibi told Arab News. “It’s been a big part of my life since I was young.” Her family and friends “and everyone cheering me on” are her main motivation, she added. And she hopes to be a source of motivation for others too. “Being one of the youngest players in the (league and national team) means that I have to inspire younger girls,” she added. 

She is quick to credit her teammates at Al-Yamamah as well, saying: “I would like to thank my teammates first of all, because they helped make it easier for me; because I’m one of the youngest, they take care of me.”  

Alotaibi stressed that discipline and dedication are crucial for anyone hoping to become a professional.

“If you love the game and you want to do amazing things and achieve a lot, you need to believe 100 percent in what you’re doing,” she explained. “Always being there on time, always the first person on the field, last person off the field. If you have passion for something, you’re going to achieve a lot of great things.” 

On March 24, Saudi Arabia’s Women’s National Team entered the FIFA world rankings after nine international matches over the previous year.  

“Currently the Saudi national team is ranked 171 out of 188 national teams. That just proves how hard we have been working in such a short time so, inshallah, in the future you will see how far we come,” Alotaibi said.  

After a recent victory in an international friendly match, the team gathered for official pictures, and Alotaibi mimicked Manchester City star Erling Haaland’s ‘yoga meditation’ goal celebration.  

 “I know it’s Haaland’s move, but I was happy and wanted to celebrate and that was the first thing that came to mind,” she said. “Now it’s become a thing.”

She has another signature pose where she brings her hands together to create the letter “M.”

“It’s M for Majd,” she said. “Inshallah, for upcoming matches when I score, I will do it.” 

For now, Alotaibi is focusing on her career with Al-Yamamah and the Saudi national team, but would she consider a move in the future?

“What’s next for me is I want to become the best player in the league,” she said. “Regarding (other) clubs… to be continued.”


Gabriel Jesus ends drought as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 in EPL

Gabriel Jesus ends drought as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 in EPL
Updated 01 April 2023

Gabriel Jesus ends drought as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 in EPL

Gabriel Jesus ends drought as Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 in EPL
  • Jesus converted a first-half penalty for his first goal since Oct. 1 to give Arsenal the lead
  • Ben White added the second goal shortly after the halftime break

LONDON: Gabriel Jesus ended a six-month scoring drought by netting twice as Premier League leader Arsenal beat Leeds 4-1 on Saturday to maintain some breathing space atop the standings.
Jesus converted a first-half penalty for his first goal since Oct. 1 to give Arsenal the lead, and then made it 3-0 with a simple finish from close range in the 55th. The Brazilian striker had played 17 games for club and country without a goal, a stretch that was also interrupted by a lengthy spell on the sidelines after being injured at the World Cup.
Ben White added the second goal shortly after the halftime break and Granit Xhaka headed in a late fourth as Arsenal maintained an eight-point gap over defending champion Manchester City, which have a game in hand.
Leeds pulled a goal back with a deflected shot by Rasmus Kristensen to make it 3-1 in the 76th, but the loss leaves the visitors just a point above the relegation zone.
After City battered Liverpool 4-1 in the early game, Arsenal were under pressure to respond but nearly went behind inside 10 seconds for the second time in their last three home league games. Leeds almost replicated Bournemouth’s feat of scoring straight from the kickoff at the Emirates with a quick attack down the right flank, but Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale kept out Kristensen’s shot that time.
Bukayo Saka was on the bench for Arsenal for the first time in the league since December 2021 because of a minor illness, and the Gunners’ attack seemed to lack their normal fluidity for the opening 30 minutes — although Jesus wasted a great chance in the 11th when he headed over the bar from six yards out. Instead it was Ramsdale that had saves to make as he had to deny Crysencio Summerville and Jack Harrison in quick succession shortly after the half-hour mark.
But Arsenal went ahead after Luke Ayling tripped Jesus in the area and the Brazilian converted the spot kick by sending Illan Meslier the wrong way and slotting his shot down the middle.
It was all Arsenal in the second half, as White was on hand at the far post to steer in a low cross from Gabriel Martinelli in the 47th to double the lead.
Jesus then played a neat interchange with Leandro Trossard, who broke into the area and squared the ball back for the striker to slot into an empty net.
While Kristensen gave the visitors some hope when his shot deflected off the back of Oleksandr Zinchenko to wrongfoot Ramsdale, Arsenal responded with a rare headed goal from Xhaka, as the Switzerland midfielder met a cross from Martin Odegaard to seal the win.


Man City rout Liverpool 4-1 without injured Haaland

Man City rout Liverpool 4-1 without injured Haaland
Updated 01 April 2023

Man City rout Liverpool 4-1 without injured Haaland

Man City rout Liverpool 4-1 without injured Haaland
  • The game represented one of the biggest remaining tests in City's league campaign
  • Defeat would have given Arsenal the chance to extend their lead at the top to 11 points

MANCHESTER, England: No Erling Haaland, no problem for Manchester City.
Even without the Premier League’s leading scorer, Pep Guardiola’s team came from behind to rout Liverpool 4-1 on Saturday and stay in pursuit of first-place Arsenal.
Haaland, who has scored 42 goals in all competitions this season, was ruled out of the game at Etihad Stadium after failing to recover from a groin injury.
But even after falling behind to a 20th-minute strike from Mohamed Salah, City powered back with goals from Julian Alvarez, Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Jack Grealish to keep the pressure on Arsenal and deliver another blow to Liverpool’s Champions League qualification hopes.
The game represented one of the biggest remaining tests in City’s league campaign. Defeat would have given Arsenal the chance to extend their lead at the top to 11 points.
And that looked like a real possibility when Liverpool scored against the run of play early on, with Diogo Jota bursting past City’s high defensive line and laying off to Salah to sweep a shot into the corner.
But City evened the score when Alvarez, Argentina’s World Cup winning striker, converted Grealish’s cross in the 27th.
Liverpool had no answer to City’s attacking quality in the second half, with De Bruyne poking home a cross from Riyad Mahrez less than a minute after the restart.
Gundogan added a third from close range in the 54th, and Grealish got a deserved goal to round off the scoring in the 74th.
The win moved City to within 5 points of Arsenal before the Londoners’ game against Leeds later in the day.
Liverpool remain seven points off fourth-place Tottenham and still hasn’t won a league match at Etihad Stadium since 2015.
Jurgen Klopp’s team have now lost three straight games since routing Manchester United 7-0 last month.


Newcastle United is an ‘ambitious, long-term project,’ says club’s chief exec

Newcastle United is an ‘ambitious, long-term project,’ says club’s chief exec
Updated 01 April 2023

Newcastle United is an ‘ambitious, long-term project,’ says club’s chief exec

Newcastle United is an ‘ambitious, long-term project,’ says club’s chief exec
  • Latest round of financial results revealed $87.2m loss, along with a need to increase revenues and secure more-lucrative sponsorship deals
  • Newcastle face Man United on Sunday in a Premier League re-run of February’s Carabao Cup final, which ended in defeat for Magpies

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United Chief Executive Darren Eales spoke on Friday about the “ambitious, long-term project” that is underway at St James’ Park.

It followed the release of the club’s latest financial results, the main takeaway from which was a need to significantly increase revenues and secure more-lucrative sponsorship deals.

The accounts for the year ending June 30, 2022, were the first filed under the majority ownership of the club by Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, whose tutelage covered about nine months of that period.

Newcastle reported a loss, after tax, of £70.7 million ($87.2 million), over the 12 months, a significant increase on the £12.2m loss reported in 2021. It was mostly attributed to transfer market costs, and a significant increase in the ratio of wages to turnover, which now sits at an unsustainable-looking 94.6 percent.

Turnover, however, was up, with the club reporting revenues of £180 million, an increase of almost £40m compared with the previous year.

“This is an ambitious, long-term project,” said Eales. “The financial success of the club goes hand-in-hand with our performances on the pitch.

“We have come a long way in the past few months. There’s still a long way to go but we are looking to the future with confidence.”

In the immediate future, Newcastle will take on Manchester United on Sunday in a Premier League re-run of February’s Carabao Cup final, in which the Magpies ended up on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.

Newcastle have been plagued by injuries to some key players recently, including top scorer Miguel Almiron, and major January signing Anthony Gordon.

“Anthony did a very small part of training on Wednesday,” head coach Eddie Howe said on Friday. “We’ll see how he has responded to that.”

As for Almiron, Howe said: “I’d love him to beat the timescale given but I just don’t see it, currently. He’s making really good progress. I think he’s pain-free. I don’t think there’s any long-term issues. I think it’s just a case of that’s the time it will take for the muscle to fully heal.

“So I think we’re four weeks off (a return to action), maybe slightly less. But yeah, he’s making really good progress.”

Three other players were also under supervision during last week’s international break, which Newcastle spent in Dubai: Fabian Schar, Sven Botman and Nick Pope. Schar and Pope were both withdrawn from the Swiss and English national teams respectively, while Botman was sent home by the Netherlands.

“I think it’s been good for some players,” Howe said of the international break. “It gave us an opportunity to rest a couple that were carrying niggles and problems.

“Fabian would be a prime example of someone that has played through pain and different things. It came at a good time for him and Anthony Gordon to improve his injury and try to get him closer to returning.

“Nick felt a problem in his thigh after the Wolves game. He didn’t train in preparation for the Nottingham Forest game but completed the game with some discomfort. He didn’t train in Dubai but has trained this week, so the signs are good.”

Regarding Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman’s decision to withdraw Botman from international duty, Howe said: “Sven, I think, suffered food poisoning; quite a nasty bout of illness. I don’t think he was alone in the Holland camp, there were few players suffering the same thing.

“He left the camp early to try and get himself back up to speed. He has trained with us since he’s returned, so he should be fine.”

One player who will be back in action this weekend is Joelinton, who missed the 2-1 wins over Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest through suspension.

“Joe’s a huge presence, not just physically but the other lads know how good of a player he is,” said Howe. “So to have him back among the squad is a huge boost for us.

“He’s been very consistent this season, a huge player for us, very versatile. To have him back is a big lift but, as you say, the other players in his absence have performed very well. It’s great to have competition for players.”


Newcastle win would place it above Manchester United in race for Champions League

Newcastle win would place it above Manchester United in race for Champions League
Updated 01 April 2023

Newcastle win would place it above Manchester United in race for Champions League

Newcastle win would place it above Manchester United in race for Champions League
  • Howe is preparing to lock horns again with Dutchman Erik ten Hag
  • Newcastle have announced the arrival of former manager of rivals Sunderland

NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United can continue their rise from underdogs to equals with victory over Manchester United — that’s the view of head coach Eddie Howe.

Howe is preparing to lock horns again with Dutchman Erik ten Hag, a constant critic of his Magpies’ side, the first time the two have met since it was the Red Devils who emerged victorious from the Carabao Cup final encounter in February.

A win at St. James’ Park this weekend would see Newcastle climb above their more decorated rivals in the race for the Champions League, it would also better their points tally for the whole of last season — and that despite still having 11 more games to play.
That statistic in particular represents just how far Newcastle have come, in such a short space of time.

“I think we have tried this season to approach every game as equals with whoever we are playing,” said Howe ahead of the potentially pivotal weekend clash.

“Certainly in our preparations, we’ve tried not to filter anything negative through to the players. What I mean by that, we have tried to be very positive in our approach in every aspect of our play, whether that is on or off the ball. A fearless approach, an approach which hopefully makes the players believe we can win that game, home or away, because ultimately that is where we want to be to be the team we want to be in the future.

“Last season was slightly different. We had to play a certain way to get results to elevate our way up the league so. If you look at a game from last season to this, I hope you see a big difference in terms of our style and how we want to play.

“We are certainly evolving, hopefully into a better team.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle have announced the arrival of former manager of rivals Sunderland, Jack Ross, who joins as the interim head of coach development on a short-term basis.

Ross, who took Sunderland to Wembley twice in his two years as boss, will provide support for the academy’s coaching structure and players in the under-9 to under-16 age groups.

Academy director, Steve Harper, said: “Jack is a very experienced manager, coach and coach educator. His knowledge and experience will be of huge benefit to us during his time here.”

Ross has overseen almost 300 senior games at clubs including Alloa Athletic, St. Mirren, Sunderland, Hibernian and Dundee United. And the club’s summer schedule is starting to take shape with the announcement that Newcastle will travel north of the border to take on Scottish giants Rangers in pre-season.

As well as a trip to America’s Eastern seaboard in July, the Magpies are now slated to take on Gers at Ibrox on Tues. July 18. The fixture will act as a testimonial match in honor of Light Blues goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who — if selected this weekend — could make his 500th appearance for the Scottish Premiership side.

Of the announcement, Howe said: “A trip to Rangers will present a strong challenge at what will be an important time in our summer preparations.

“Any time Rangers play at Ibrox, you expect competitive football, and we hope to contribute to a great occasion in honor of Allan McGregor’s achievements with the club.”