Man City begin bid for Premier League history, Liverpool face Chelsea test

Man City begin bid for Premier League history, Liverpool face Chelsea test
A combination picture shows Premier League managers Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Mikel Arteta (Arsenal), Mauricio Pochettino (Chelsea), Erik ten Hag (Man United), Eddie Howe ( Newcastle United) and Juergen Klopp (Liverpool) ahead of the 2023-24 season, which starts Friday. (Reuters)
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Updated 10 August 2023
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Man City begin bid for Premier League history, Liverpool face Chelsea test

Man City begin bid for Premier League history, Liverpool face Chelsea test
  • Arsenal appear best-placed to capitalize if City’s grip on the English game is to come to an end and will expect to get off to a flier at home to Nottingham
  • Liverpool and Chelsea face an early test of how they will bounce back from disappointing seasons when they face off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND: Manchester City kick off the new Premier League season at Burnley on Friday to begin their bid to become the first side to ever win four consecutive English top-flight titles.

Arsenal appear best-placed to capitalize if City’s grip on the English game is to come to an end and will expect to get off to a flier at home to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Liverpool and Chelsea face an early test of how they will bounce back from disappointing seasons when they face off at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

AFP Sport looks at the pick of the action from the opening weekend of the Premier League campaign.

City are still riding the wave of euphoria from the end of last season as they added the club’s first ever Champions League to go with Premier League and FA Cup glory.

The summer has not been without its challenges for Pep Guardiola as captain Ilkay Gundogan departed to Barcelona and the offer in Saudi Arabia was too much for Riyad Mahrez to turn down.

City have also had to fight to retain Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva, while Croatian duo Mateo Kovacic and Josko Gvardiol are only two new arrivals in the transfer market so far.

Guardiola’s opposite number in the dugout on Friday already has a statue outside the Etihad from his playing days, but Vincent Kompany has quickly established himself as one of the brightest coaching talents on the continent.

The former Belgian captain turned around a club in crisis during his first season at Turf Moor to return Burnley to the Premier League with seven games to spare.

The Clarets are a very different proposition to the side that punched above their weight to survive for six seasons in the top flight under Sean Dyche between 2016 and 2022.

Inspired by Guardiola, Kompany has transformed Burnley into a side that dominate the ball.

“I would play every week of every month of every year against a team the level of Man City,” said Kompany. “That is the best way to improve.

“You won’t get them all right, it’s impossible with the quality of that team — possibly the best team at the moment in world football — but that’s the best challenge so I wouldn’t want it any different.”

Burnley, though, did see the downside of opening up against City when they lost 6-0 in the FA Cup quarterfinals last season.

Optimism around Chelsea’s positive performances in pre-season under new boss Mauricio Pochettino has been punctured by the news that Christopher Nkunku will be sidelined for up to four months after undergoing knee surgery.

The French international was brought to Stamford Bridge to ease the Blues’ goalscoring woes after they finished 12th last season — their lowest since 1994.

Pochettino’s time in charge gets off to a testing start when Liverpool visit looking to put their own disappointment from last season behind them.

But all is also not well at Anfield with fans frustrated at the lack of new arrivals.

Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai are Jurgen Klopp’s only two new signings to help fill the void left by the departure of captain Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Roberto Firmino.

The array of attacking weapons on offer to Klopp has shown in a free-scoring pre-season, but the Reds have also looked defensively weak with little protection for the back four from the midfield.

“I can understand some people having doubts,” said new skipper Virgil van Dijk.

Manchester United begin their quest for a first league title in a decade on Monday against a Wolves side who were left without a manager just three days before the season begins.

Julen Lopetegui stepped down on Tuesday after becoming disillusioned with the lack of resources to spend in the transfer market.

Gary O’Neil has stepped into the hotseat at Molineux tasked with repeating his success in keeping Bournemouth up against the odds last season.

United will expect to get off to a winning start at Old Trafford, but the home crowd will have to wait for their first sight of new striker Rasmus Hojlund.

The Dane is suffering a back injury that is set to keep him out for a few weeks.

Fixtures (all times GMT)

Friday

Burnley vs. Manchester City (1900)

Saturday

Arsenal vs. Nottingham Forest (1130), Bournemouth vs. West Ham, Brighton vs. Luton, Everton vs. Fulham, Sheffield United vs. Crystal Palace (all 1400), Newcastle vs. Aston Villa (1630)

Sunday

Brentford vs. Tottenham (1300), Chelsea vs. Liverpool (1530)

Monday

Manchester United vs. Wolves (1900)


Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers
Updated 40 min 3 sec ago
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Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

Saudi squad announced for the upcoming World Cup, Asian Cup qualifiers

RIYADH: Saudi national team boss Roberto Mancini announced the 31-player list in preparation for the fifth and sixth games of the 2026 World Cup and the 2027 Asian Cup qualifiers.


The Green Falcons will play Pakistan on June 6 in Islamabad and host Jordan on June 11 in Riyadh.

A preparation camp will be held in Riyadh next Thursday, except for Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr players, who will join their teammates on June 2, after the King’s Cup final between the two Riyadh giants.

Saudi National Team Squad for World Cup & Asian Cup Qualifiers

Goalkeepers: Mohammed Al-Owais, Ahmed Al-Kassar, Raghed Najjar, Mohammed Al-Yami, and Mohammed Al-Absi.

Defenders: Mutib Al-Harbi, Hassan Kadesh, Ali Al-Bulaihi, Aoun Al-Saluli, Ali Lagami, Hassan Al-Tumbakti, Saud Abdulhamid, and Mohammed Al-Buraik.

Midfielders: Mukhtar Ali, Abdullah Al-Khaibari, Musab Al-Juwair, Mohammed Kanno, Rayan Hamed, Sultan Al-Ghannam, Nasser Al-Dawsari, Faisal Al-Ghamdi, and Abbas Al-Hassan.

Attackers: Salem Al-Dawsari, Sami Al-Najai, Ayman Yahya, Marwan Al-Sahafi, Abdulrahman Gharib, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, Abdullah Radif, Abdullah Al-Hamdan, and Firas Al-Burikan.

Al-Nassr’s Sultan Al-Ghannam returns to the squad after he and five other Saudi internationals were hit with punishments for disciplinary violations before the AFC Asian Cup held in Qatar.

The wing-back took to X and said he was happy to return to the squad.

“Representing the national team is an unparalleled honor. I thank those in charge of the team, including the administrative and technical bodies, and I hope that I, along with the rest of my teammates, will provide a level that is worthy of the reputation of Saudi football,” he added.


Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup

Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup
Updated 23 May 2024
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Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup

Ten Hag vows to save Man Utd project by winning FA Cup
  • Ten Hag is battling to save his job amid mounting speculation that United’s new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe plans to axe him after a turbulent season
  • Asked on Thursday if the final could be his last match as United manager, Ten Hag laughed and told reporters: “I have nothing to say. I’m just focusing on the job I have to do”

LONDON: Erik ten Hag has vowed to win the FA Cup and carry on with his Manchester United project as the under-fire boss prepares for Saturday’s final against Manchester City.
Ten Hag is battling to save his job amid mounting speculation that United’s new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe plans to axe him after a turbulent season.
United finished eighth in the Premier League — their lowest final position since 1990 — and crashed out of the Champions League in the group stage.
The Dutch coach, who led United to their first trophy in six years when they won the League Cup last season, also clashed with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, reportedly creating a rift in the dressing room.
United have been linked with England boss Gareth Southgate, former Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino, departing Bayern Munich boss Thomas Tuchel and Ipswich chief Kieran McKenna.
But Ten Hag is convinced he can turn the tide by securing United’s first FA Cup triumph since 2016, in the process avenging last season’s loss to City at the same stage of the competition and ensuring his club qualify for Europe.
Asked on Thursday if the final could be his last match as United manager, Ten Hag laughed and told reporters: “I have nothing to say. I’m just focusing on the job I have to do.
“That is first to win the game on Saturday and then we are in the project. Keep going in the project.
“After every season you review it and see where you are in the project and what things may need to change.
“We spoke lately about it. There are players developing and values going up.”
City were crowned Premier League champions for an unprecedented fourth successive season last weekend, giving them six titles in seven years.
Pep Guardiola’s men have beaten United twice already this season and Ten Hag knows a surprise win for underdogs United would be a well-timed feather in his cap.
“It’s all about trophies. We have a huge opportunity to win a trophy. In the last 10 years there has not been so many trophies at the club but we have the opportunity to win two in two years,” he said.
“The FA Cup final, it’s a big event. Even in a season that is not in our way, we are there. We know we have an opportunity.
“It won’t be easy but we must go for it. We have to believe it. We know often against good opposition we play our best football and that must be the same on Saturday.”
Ten Hag has been hampered by injuries to key players throughout the season, but his fitness issues have eased ahead of the final.
Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane have returned, with Victor Lindelof, Mason Mount and Anthony Martial pictured in training this week, although Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw will be sidelined.
Ten Hag insisted Maguire, who has been named in England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad despite his muscle injury, had not suffered a setback.
“I don’t think so, no. It’s just he didn’t make it, didn’t heal as we expected,” he said.
Marcus Rashford was left out of England’s Euro squad after a poor campaign and Ten Hag challenged the United forward to prove his worth in the final.
“He looks good and that is a career, ups and downs,” Ten Hag said.
“So, a down can also be fuel, that is what I see in training. He will be highly motivated. Speak with your feet, he is highly talented.”


West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches

West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches
Updated 23 May 2024
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West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches

West Ham’s Paqueta charged over alleged betting breaches
  • Paqueta has been charged with four breaches of FA rules in relation to his conduct in West Ham’s Premier League matches
  • The 26-year-old has also been charged with two further breaches in respect of alleged failures to “comply pursuant to FA Rule F2“

LONDON: West Ham midfielder Lucas Paqueta has been charged with alleged breaches of Football Association betting rules after a probe into claims the Brazilian deliberately earned yellow cards.
Paqueta has been charged with four breaches of FA rules in relation to his conduct in West Ham’s Premier League matches against Leicester in November 2022, Aston Villa in March 2023, Leeds in May 2023 and Bournemouth in August 2023.
The 26-year-old has also been charged with two further breaches in respect of alleged failures to “comply pursuant to FA Rule F2.”
Paqueta was interviewed by the FA in September and gave the English game’s governing body access to his phone.
The FA investigation started after suspicious betting patterns surrounding Paqueta’s booking for shoving Bournemouth’s Illia Zabarnyi in the closing minutes of a 1-1 draw on the opening day of this season.
“West Ham United’s Lucas Paqueta has been charged with misconduct in relation to alleged breaches of FA Rules E5 and F3,” an FA statement said on Thursday.
“It’s alleged that he directly sought to influence the progress, conduct, or any other aspect of, or occurrence in these matches by intentionally seeking to receive a card from the referee for the improper purpose of affecting the betting market in order for one or more persons to profit from betting.”
Paqueta has until June 3 to respond to the charges, subject to any request for an extension to the deadline.
Writing on his Instagram page, Paqueta was quick to deny the charges.
“I am extremely surprised and upset that the FA has decided to charge me,” he said.
“For nine months, I have co-operated with every step of their investigation and provided all the information I can.
“I deny all the charges in their entirety and will fight with every breath to clear my name. Due to the ongoing process, I will not be providing any further comment.”
In their own statement, West Ham said: “The club acknowledges receipt of the FA charge received by Lucas Paqueta for alleged breaches of their Rules.
“Lucas categorically denies the breach and will continue to robustly defend his position.
“The club will continue to stand by and support the Player throughout the process and will make no further comment until the matter is concluded.”


Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run
Updated 23 May 2024
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Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run

Lookman hat-trick fires Atalanta to Europa League, ends Leverkusen’s unbeaten run
  • Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final since 1975 to secure Atalanta’s first ever continental trophy

DUBLIN: Ademola Lookman scored a stunning hat-trick as Atalanta ended Bayer Leverkusen’s 51-match unbeaten run to win the Europa League final 3-0 on Wednesday and claim their first trophy for 61 years.
Lookman became the first player to score a hat-trick in a European final since 1975 to secure Atalanta’s first ever continental trophy.
“One of the best nights of my life. Amazing performance from the team,” said Lookman.
“We’ve got to celebrate, we made history tonight.”
The side from Bergamo have long lived in the shadow of nearby giants AC and Inter Milan.
However, they have enjoyed a golden era under Gian Piero Gasperini, reaching the Champions League on four occasions, and now have silverware to show for it.
Leverkusen have made a habit of late fightbacks in their remarkable run to winning a first ever Bundesliga title without tasting defeat.
But this time they failed to dig themselves out of a hole created by a slow start.
“It’s a shame that the time it didn’t work out for us was in a final,” said Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka.
“It’s bitter, definitely, we lost a final today but we go on and we’ll make up for it on Saturday (in the German Cup final).
Atalanta’s more purposeful play in the opening stages was rewarded after just 12 minutes.
Davide Zappacosta got to the by-line and Lookman caught Exequiel Palacios napping to fire into the top corner at the back post.
The Nigerian has at times endured a nomadic career, bouncing around the lower reaches of the Premier League on loan spells at Fulham and Leicester after being discarded by RB Leipzig.
But Lookman has found a home in Bergamo, where he will now forever be a hero.

The 26-year-old’s second goal was fit to win any final as he nutmegged Xhaka before curling a powerful shot into the far corner.
Leverkusen’s flying full-backs have been at the heart of their stunning season and should have got them back in the game either side of half-time.
Alex Grimaldo fired tamely into the arms of Juan Musso before Jeremie Frimpong blazed over with the goal gaping.
Leverkusen were also denied a lifeline when Gianluca Scamacca was lucky to escape with a yellow card for wild challenge on Florian Wirtz.
For the fourth time in seven Europa League knockout matches, Xabi Alonso’s men found themselves 2-0 down.
Alonso has enjoyed a rapid rise to become one of Europe’s hottest coaching properties.
The Spaniard has rejected the advances of former clubs Liverpool and Bayern Munich to remain at the BayArena next season.
However, Alonso’s decision to start without a recognized striker did not work and he threw on Victor Boniface at half-time to give his side a focal point up front.
The damage, though, was already done as the German champions looked a side drained by their record run across three competitions.
Atalanta were happy to soak up the Leverkusen pressure after the break and hit on the counter-attack.
The final blow was another fabulous finish from Lookman as he skipped past Edmond Tapsoba and this time blasted into the top corner on his weaker left foot.
Atalanta had lost all three of their previous finals under Gasperini, most recently in last week’s Coppa Italia defeat to Juventus.
But this time they were not to be denied their shot at history as they were roared across the finishing line by the thousands clad in blue and black that had made the trip from northern Italy to the Irish capital.
In doing so they became the first Italian side to win the competition since Parma lifted the UEFA Cup in 1999.


UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro

UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro
Updated 22 May 2024
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UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro

UEFA picks Budapest to host 2026 Champions League final, delays 2027 decision on San Siro
  • The Puskás Arena and San Siro were the only two candidates for the two finals scheduled to be awarded
  • The next final on June 1 is at Wembley Stadium in London and Bayern Munich’s home will host next year

DUBLIN: UEFA picked Budapest on Wednesday to host the men’s Champions League final in 2026 and delayed giving the 2027 game to Milan amid uncertainty over the future of San Siro.
The Puskás Arena and San Siro were the only two candidates for the two finals scheduled to be awarded. The next final on June 1 is at Wembley Stadium in London and Bayern Munich’s home will host next year.
The iconic San Siro, formally known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and owned by the city of Milan, has been under long-term threat of demolition. Its shared tenants AC Milan and Inter Milan have looked for new homes they can own.
UEFA put off a decision until a September meeting of its executive committee subject to the Italian soccer federation “submitting information on refurbishment plans” for San Siro.
Earlier Wednesday, uncertainly increased in Milan as ownership of Inter switched from Chinese corporation Suning to United States investors Oaktree because of failure to repay debts.
The 75,000-seat San Siro still could host the European Cup or Champions League final for the fifth time, one year after staging the opening ceremony of the 2026 Winter Olympics.
The 70,000-seat Puskás Arena opened five years ago and has been a go-to venue for UEFA, hosting a Europa League final last year and replacement games during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is a big fan of soccer and billionaire banker Sándor Csányi is a FIFA vice president representing UEFA.
UEFA’s executive committee also sent the Women’s Champions League final in 2026 to Oslo, Norway.
Istanbul will host the 2026 Europa League final in the downtown stadium of Besiktas and the 2027 game is going to Eintracht Frankfurt’s home. The 2025 Europa final is in Athletic Bilbao’s stadium, which also hosts the Women’s Champions League final next week.
The third-tier Conference League final in 2026 will also go to Germany, in Leipzig, and in 2027 to Istanbul, potentially also at the Besiktas stadium though that could change.
The Turkish soccer federation said it hopes the 2027 final can move to the new stadium being built in the capital Ankara ahead of the country co-hosting the men’s European Championship with Italy in 2032.
Turkiye gets to host European finals in back-to-back years while the Romanian national stadium in Bucharest, which last hosted a Europa League final in 2012, lost in votes to bring that title match back.
The Israeli soccer federation had originally entered the Conference League bidding contest last year proposing Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.
In other UEFA executive committee business ahead of the Europa League final, trials of safe standing areas for fans at European club competition games was extended next season to Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland.
The UEFA-recognized Football Supporters Europe group has run a “Europe Wants to Stand” campaign and welcomed the new additions to consent for trials over the last two seasons in England, France and Germany. Also on the permitted list are Italy and Spain.
“Standing at matches positively contributes to the atmosphere of games enormously, is a significant element of fan culture across the continent, and helps to lower the pricing for these games generally,” FSE executive director Ronan Evain said in a statement.