Cricket

Xavi to leave Barcelona; South Africa Trounce Morocco; Maddison clash with Maupay; AL Nassr beat Inter Miami 6-0

FC Barcelona 3-5 Villarreal CF: Yellow Submarine sinks Catalans at home, as Barcelona concede two late goals to surrender in an enthralling encounter at Estadi Olimpic

FC Barcelona’s defensive frailties got exposed once again as they faced a horrific defeat in the hands of Villarreal CF, including two late goals into the final minutes of stoppage time, thus hindering their title defence, which has taken a step back, as the Catalans find themselves ten points adrift of leaders Real Madrid. 

Villarreal stuns FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona have been outclassed in their return to Estadi Olimpic at Montjuic, as they go down fighting against Villarreal CF, as Marcelino’s men outpaced the Catalan defenders, leapfrogging them. The defending champions, who were on the verge of completing a miraculous remontada after being 0-2 down, finally lost the game 3-5 after taking a lead of 3-2 in the 71st minute. Gerard Moreno has showcased his class when he caught Barca defence sleeping from a obnoxious throw-in, thus helping the side go into a lead of 1-0 at half-time. Barcelona’s former player Akhomach scored the second goal, which prompted Barca to induce three of their talents into the field, who helped to score thrice within 11 minutes, eventually conceding three more to end the score line in a loss. To add to the woes, Barca boss Xavi has announced his decision to leave the club at the end of the season, considering a change of “dynamics” at the club.

Gerard Moreno draws first blood

With an enthralling game on the cards with Barca returning to Montjuic after a span of one month, Xavi and Marcelino had named their strongest eleven, with the former naming a La Masia gem into the full-back position in the form of Hector Fort, who was included into the squad as a result of Alejandro Balde’s season-ending injury. Along with Fort, Barca’s defensive throng consisted of the seasoned troika of Araujo, Christensen and Kounde, followed by Romeu, Gundogan and De Jong in the midfield. Robert Lewandowski was vested with the responsibility of marshalling the attack, flanked by Lamine Yamal and Joao Felix on the wings. 

For Villarreal, it was Sorloth and Moreno on the attack, followed by a four-throng defence and midfield. With lots of opportunities for both sides coming in the first 40 minutes, it was Gerard Moreno, who saw the first chance to give the away side a well-deserved lead. It was Baena who combined with Sorloth to find the ball deep into the Blaugrana territory, with Alberto Moreno finding the big Norwegian who passed the ball perfectly into the centre of the box, with Gerard thumping on a well-struck shot which drilled past the Barca defence and hapless Inaki Pena, thus going into the half-time break with a 1-0 lead.

Akhomach haunts Barca

A Joao Cancelo mistake cost Barca with a second goal, as the Portuguese was subbed on during the half-time break to add finesse with his runs along the wings. A ball from the top was mis-kicked by the Manchester City loanee, as the former Barca winger Akhomach scripted past after bursting into the Catalan box, sweeping aside onrushing Inaki Pena, who had little to save the ball as it was struck well into the Barca net, thus going 0-2 down with more than thirty minutes left in the play. 

Gundogan pulls one back

With a 0-2 on the board, Gundogan showcased his never-say-never mentality, which has fetched him a treble at Manchester City last season. Ferran Torres, Barca’s lethal striker took the chance to sort a low pass to Robert Lewandowski, whose deft touch teed up Gundogan, as the German star hit the ball into the bottom left corner to pull things back for the home side.

With a 1-2 score line, Pedri decided to go all guns blazing a few minutes later, as a Yamal-Gundogan combination almost heaped pressure for Villarreal defence. With a squeezing past ball which toppled towards Pedri, the midfield wizard smashed a shot towards the bottom right corner, thus restoring the parity for the hosts, as the home fans erupted with joy.

Barca goes ahead, concedes thrice later

With a 2-2 score line, Barca was awarded a free-kick close to the sideline, which was taken by the trustworthy Gundogan. With Araujo leaping ahead to score from the set-piece, it wrongly touched former Manchester United defender Eric Bailly, as the defensive metronome’s own goal led to a Barca remontada, thus Xavi and his side almost on the verge of gaining three points. Little did they know what was in store for them in the next few minutes. 

As the clock struck 84th minute, Villareal scored a banger through Guedes, as the Norwegian Sorloth’s through-the-defence pass reached the former Valencia star, as he brought down a fantastic shot to struck the ball into the bottom corner, thus restoring the parity for the Yellow Submarines.

A penalty to Barcelona which was given by on-field referee, but was overturned by VAR, but Villareal pounced upon this to build their surging counter-attack, as Sorloth found a Capoue pass too strike the ball, which was initially scuffed by Cancelo, but the Norwegian was well placed to get the ball past Pena, whose rebound save was of no use for Villarreal, as they earned back their lead.

With 102 minutes on the clock, the Yellow Submarine rubbed further salt to their wounds, as Morales scored the final goal, putting the final nail in the coffin. Barcelona’s stretched defence were subjected to questions again, as this harrowing defeat summed up their season. Later, Xavi announced that at the end of this season, he would depart the club, thus bringing an end to a stellar managerial stint, leaving several replacements lined up.

Xavi: FC Barcelona boss set to leave club after two years at the end of the season

FC Barcelona seems to be in all sorts of trouble since the last few days, as their legendary manager Xavi has announced that he will leave the club at the end of the season. This shock announcement comes after a harrowing 3-5 defeat against Villarreal last night, when Barca gobbled up a sweet chance of remontada, thus losing the game from a 3-2 winning position.  

A legendary manager

Xavi has been one of the legends in the midfield that has ever graced the football field. The Catalan star, who has fetched himself several laurels including European Championships and the World Cup, and has been an important member of the famous midfield trident of Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets, joined Barcelona’s managerial board two years back, and had pulled the club from dire straits. In his inaugural half-season, he had pulled the club from ninth spot to a Champions League place, with Barca finishing on the second spot. 

Barca pulled back in his second season, leading the side to a La Liga title, a domestic glory which had eluded them since 2019. Along with the Spanish league, Barca had defeated arch rivals Real Madrid in the finals of Spanish Super Cup, thus completing the season with a double. But, in his third season, Barcelona have once again been in dire straits, and are currently ten points adrift from La Liga leaders Real Madrid.

Last night’s 3-5 defeat at home in the hands of Villarreal has acted as a final nail in the coffin of Xavi’s reign, with the metronome deciding on stepping down as the manager at the end of the season. 

“It’s time for a change”

Xavi, at the post-match press conference has conveyed his decision of departing the club he loved so much. He was heard saying, “I will leave Barcelona in June. We have reached a point of no return. It’s time for change. As a Culé, I think that it’s time to leave. I spoke with the board and the club today. I will leave on the 30th of June.”

“I took this decision days ago. I already knew it. But it’s time to make it public. I think the players could not free themselves up. I don’t want to be a problem for the club, but the opposite.”

He further added, “Right now, if I think with my head and think about the club, the solution and the best thing is for me to leave in June, that is how I feel. We have just agreed that with the president (Joan Laporta). We have a president who is brilliant. Him, Rafa Yuste, (sporting director), Deco…everyone is really capable.”

Xavi has mentioned about his meeting with Joan Laporta, as he said, “I think this decision will help unblocking the team and the mood in here. I just told the president Laporta now. We’ve had a meeting, it was a very human conversation, just with common sense. The trust from them is still fantastic.”

As of now, Barcelona would be looking to return back to winning ways, as they face Osasuna next in midweek, thus trying to rekindle their fighting spirit, which has gone from the club after Gavi’s ACL injury, with Laporta set to look for replacements at the helm for next season. 

Marcus Rashford: Manchester United star takes “responsibility for his actions”, citing reasons about his absence from FA Cup clash against Newport County

Manchester United’s problems seem to never come to an end as latest reports suggesting Marcus Rashford’s ‘injury’ absence in their FA Cup clash against Newport County has been dealt by the club in an “internal disciplinary” matter. The forward was deemed unavailable for the crunch match, later pictured at a party at Belfast.

Marcus Rashford: Manchester United’s homegrown boy

Marcus Rashford has been one of the greatest stars in the colors of Manchester United, as the homegrown boy has showcased his mettle since the last few years, scoring important goals in clutch moments. After a wondrous last season at the Old Trafford, the England winger has seen a drop of form this season, and has misfired several of his opportunities. With Jadon Sancho out of the squad due to disciplinary actions and Antony not in his best, Rashford and Garnacho were given the responsibilities of marshaling the attack.

Manchester United have endured a rather topsy-turvy season, with mediocre results in the Premier League, with an outstanding FA Cup run being the savior for Erik Ten hag’s side. With an all-important clash against Newport County, Ten Hag was without the services of his trustworthy star Rashford, who had given the reason for his unavailability to be injured, later found out to be a false claim.

In an official statement released by Manchester United, it was said the matter has been dealt with internal disciplinary actions, as it said, “Marcus has taken responsibility for his actions. This has been dealt with as an internal disciplinary matter, which is now closed.”

“No Good Culture”

Former Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag has been outspoken about the lack of culture in the United dressing room since the day he arrived in 2022, and has indeed faced several disciplinary incidents this season. To start with Borussia Dortmund starlet Jadon Sancho, the Dutch man was hard on him, and was banned from several activities at the club, which included training with the first team and was compelled to use the academy dining room. Sancho is currently playing for Borussia Dortmund, the German side which had utilized his potential, and has made good numbers with the Black-and -Yellow.

Asked after the Newport game, if Rashford is another subtle example of “no good culture”, Erik Ten Hag said, “I don’t go in this case. We talked before about it, we played a good game, and now we move on.”

After the ‘internal action’, it has been confirmed that Rashford is available for selection for United’s away fixture against Wolves, which is slated to be played on Thursday night, as the Englishman would be bent to prove his talent, like he has done for the Red Devils in many previous occasions. 

Cristiano Ronaldo: South Africa players reminisce Portuguese star’s celebration after knocking out Morocco

South Africa has rekindled their 2010 FIFA World Cup form after knocking out World Cup semi finalists Morocco in an intense encounter, which saw a rollercoaster of emotions from both sides, comprising missed penalties and suspensions. To add to that, South African players have recorded a unique celebration, mimicking Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, after knocking out Morocco, the side which has ended Ronaldo’s dream run at the 2022 World Cup. 

South Africa dashes Moroccan dreams

South Africa, the land of surprise results in football, has once again lived up to their name as they defeated Morocco in the Round of 16 at AFCON, with goals from Evidence Makgopa and Teboho Mokoena acting as a bruise for Moroccan qualification hopes. With the score at 1-0, Hakimi missed a penalty on the dying minutes, and to add to their woes, South Africa added a second goal to complete a remarkable victory, thus qualifying into the next stage, where they are slated to face Cape Verde, who would look to continue their impeccable run in the tournament. 

This stupefying result came just a year after Morocco defeated Portugal in FIFA World Cup, held in Qatar, which had infamously reduced Ronaldo to tears, in what considered to be the legend’s last World Cup fixture. To this incident, South African players sent a message to Ronaldo by copying his celebration which he did after scoring against Everton in 2022, thus mocking the Moroccan team. 

A unique celebration

After South Africa’s game, players went on to copy Ronaldo’s trademark clasp-on-the-chest style, as a clear statement to Moroccan players, who had knocked out Portugal. The celebration was described as “self-deprecating”, indicating his uber-fit self-care routine, as United issued a statement to confirm this.

It read, “We can now reveal that Ronaldo’s celebration was a self-deprecating in-joke with his fellow team-mates, highlighting the strong bonds among the players in Erik ten Hag’s squad. Of course, Cristiano is renowned for looking after himself and ensuring he is always in the best possible condition, which naturally involves hours of hard work on the training pitch and in the gym.”

It further said, “It also includes resting at the right moments and ensuring he has enough sleep to aid his recovery. It has previously been reported that Ronaldo naps several times a day.”

With this celebration, it would indeed be safe to say that Ronaldo would be happy to see the celebration, which was indeed a mockery of the side which had knocked his side out, more than a year ago. 

The South Africa boss Hugo Bross was heard speaking at full time, about his squad selection and the criticism he has faced. He said, “I got a lot of criticism in South Africa at certain moments, but I knew what I was doing. I know the results have to follow, and even with local players now you see they can play at the high level. When they have confidence, they can do it. This is very important for South African football, making good performances here in such a big tournament, so let’s go on [further].”

Ferran Torres: FC Barcelona striker faces lengthy term on the sidelines, set to be sidelined for five weeks

Spanish champions FC Barcelona adds one more star to their infirmary as Spanish striker Ferran Torres is set to face a lengthy spell on the sidelines owing to a thigh injury which he sustained last night in the Catalans’ 1-0 victory over Osasuna. With Ferran out of the squad, Barcelona’s attacking options are coming off loose with both Raphinha and Felix recuperating respective injuries.

FC Barcelona defeats Osasuna

FC Barcelona are finally back to winning ways as they have showcased a clear statement of them trying to fight till the end of the season, after last weekend’s harrowing loss to Villareal, when the Blaugranas went on to lose the game 3-5 after leading 3-2 with six minutes left on the clock. To add to their woes, coach Xavi has announced his decision to leave the club at the end of the season, vying to take a sabbatical before joining any project. Last night, Barca’s sweet victory over Osasuna explained their desire to defend the La Liga title, which they had mastered last season after a hiatus of four years.

New recruit from Brazil, Vitor Roque, was the goal scorer of the night, as he created history by scoring his first goal in the Catalan colors, after coming off the bench just after the hour mark. Roque would look to emulate the record of his compatriots like Neymar and Ronaldinho, who has indeed etched their name on the history book after creating several milestones, as after few attempts, he finally found the back of the net with a fantabulous assist from Joao Cancelo, as the Portuguese helped the Brazilian get on to the score sheet. 

After the game, Xavi was heard speaking to journalists, as he said, “We played a good game today, but we lacked a bit of composure in the final third. We needed a reaction, and that’s why I think my decision was correct. We needed the unity of the masses. We have to improve technically, but the reaction in terms of strength, aggression and speed in the match I think was very good. It was a reaction match and our reaction was good, three important points, a goal from Vitor and clean Sheet, but we must improve.” 

Ferran’s injury mars the victory

But,despite winning the difficult game, Barcelona fans were not able to rejoice much as one of their lethal strikers, Ferran Torres, was subbed off the game in an emotional picture as the game started. The Spaniard, who is in dream form and has already scored 11 goals and boasts four assists to his name, was seen getting off the ground in a rather tearful moment. 

According to journalist Javi Miguel, initial tests carried out on Ferran have suggested that the star has a tear in the thigh muscle of his right leg, thus forcing him on the sidelines for five more weeks. As a result, he would not be able to take part in the first leg of Barca’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 fixture against Napoli, slated to be played on February 21. 

With Ferran out, Barcelona’s injury list keeps on growing as Gavi, Ter Stegen, Raphinha and Felix are also with him. Speaking about his injury, Xavi was heard saying, “There will always be injuries because it is clear that the schedule is criminal. We played nine games in January, almost all of them away from home, many trips and a small roster. There are many injuries because of the calendar. Ferran noticed something in his hamstring and we hope it is something small. It is unfortunate that he was injured because he was in a great moment.”

He further added, “It’s a shame about Ferran, the other day we gave him a rest due to his fatigue and the minutes he was accumulating. In intensity there are few like him, a shame because his absence will be noticeable.”

A stringent schedule is lined up for Barcelona as they play in the league three times, followed by their high-octane clash against Napoli in the last 16 of UEFA Champions League.

James Maddison: Tottenham star impresses on return from injury; clashes with Neal Maupay as Spurs beat the Bees

James Maddison, the Tottenham stalwart has impressed on his long-awaited return from injury, as Ange Postecoglou’s men defeated Brentford after going down 1-0 within the first few minutes of the game. But, things got a bit spicy when a celebratory banter between Maupay and Maddision took centerstage, thus ending the game day on a high.

Spurs outclass Brentford

Tottenham Hotspurs have once again turned their heads back on winning each game, as last night, Ange Postecoglou’s men showcased their mettle, in pulling back things from a rathole. Spurs went down 0-1 within the first fifteen minutes, when Neal Maupay strode into the opponent penalty box to give his side an early lead. Aiming to break their high defensive line, Maupay broke past them, thus scoring his 100th career goal, but it was his celebration which had stomped his authority over the enraged home supporters. He took to the dart-throwing celebration of Maddison, thus calling his teammates to do the same, with the camera capturing an unimpressive Mads.

 In response to this gesture, Maddison has explained his jibe to TNT Sports after the game, as he said, “I just said to him, he hasn’t scored enough goals of his own in the last few years to have his own celebration, so he had to copy mine.” He further added, “Short story, ended well for us”,as things indeed had a sweet ending for the Lilywhites, with Destiny Udogie, Johnson and Richarlison adding three quick goals within a span of eight minutes after the restart. 

“Went a bit early”

After the game, Maddison further rubbed salt to the injuries of Maupay, as he posted a cryptic post of his side winning the game, captioning it as a “Short Story”. The post contained three photos of Maupay’s celebration, followed by Maddison’s victory celebration and a graphic image of the winning scoreline. Maupay, had playfully engaged in the banter more by saying, “Went a bit early with that one.” He further added, “Gutted we couldn’t get the win. More goals and less relegations in my career than James Maddison. We go again Monday, Bees.”

But, although it was a well fought victory of Spurs over the Bees, Aussie boss Ange had some other thoughts in his mind, as he said to TNT Sports, “We were getting dragged into things, that’s not who we are. We were chatting to the ref more than we were playing football. We are naive at times, focusing on the wrong things, but that’s all part of our growth.”

Asked if Maupay’s celebration had urged his side to go all guns blazing, big Ange replied, “I hope not, because that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not a fan of it. I don’t like the whole bravado, pushing people around. If you’re that brave about things, my players and their players, get into a UFC cage and I’ll see how brave they are. “

“We’re out there to play football and that’s what I want our guys to do, focus on playing football and they shouldn’t get motivated by things that aren’t really that important to us. Like I said, we got sucked in the first half. Second half was better.”

Messi versus Ronaldo: Camera catches Portuguese superstar smiling viciously as Al-Nassr ousts Inter Miami

Messi against Ronaldo- one of the famous battles over last two decades has taken a new turn at Saudi Arabia, as Inter Miami got a harsh reality check in the hands of Ronaldo’s side Al-Nassr, as the Arabian giants completely outclassed the MLS outfit 6-1, with a classy hattrick from Talisca and a banger from Aymeric Laporte being the highlights.

Al-Nassr ousts Inter Miami

It was deemed to be the “Last Dance” between two of football’s greatest players, who have taken the field by storm since the last two decades- Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. People believe that rivalries will come and go but a generational clash like this would never form again, labelling people to be lucky who have witnessed the eras of these two metronomes. 

With the commencement of Riyadh Season Cup, comprising Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr, which was completed by Messi’s side Inter Miami, it was supposed that maybe Messi and Ronaldo would be facing for one more time, maybe the last time, but it was not meant to, with the Portuguese legend sitting out due to a pre-informed discomfort, and Messi not named in the starting eleven. People might have got the opportunity to see the legends at play, which has a rich history over the years, starting with El Clasico in Spanish football, to Barcelona versus Juventus, but it was Al-Nassr’s Talisca who stole the limelight completely from the stars.

Although Messi was named on the bench, it was hardly brought to any effect with Miami having conceded three goals within the first half, with former Manchester City star Aymeric Laporte making his mark by scoring an absolute banger from his own half, catching Miami keeper Callender off-guard. Latest signings for the American club included Luis Suarez, the striking metronome, who was completely helpless without Messi, as the Argentine star looked rather worried about his side’s performance. 

Ronaldo’s vicious smile

But, on top of Inter Miami’s miserable performance, it was one more thing which took the spotlight, as the intense rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo was even visible with none present on the field. In the 24th minute of the game, the camera caught Ronaldo in the VIP box, and was treated with his typical boastful smile, as a sudden switch towards Messi saw the World Cup winner rather tense about his side’s harrowing outing. It was showcased on the giant screen at the stadium, after which it was widely circulated on several social media platforms, thus bringing their rich rivalry back on spotlight. 

With an age-long stand-off which became popular with Ronaldo joining FC Barcelona’s arch rivals Real Madrid in 2009, the duo has won several top awards for themselves and their sides, which has etched their names among the history books, considering the fact that both are widely regarded as two of world’s greatest players. 

As for Inter Miami, David Beckham owned club would look to force some answers as they have not won their fourth consecutive pre-season clash, which started with a meagre stalemate against El Salvador, followed by losses against FC Dallas, Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr. They visit Hong Kong next, to continue their preparations for the upcoming season slated to begin in a few weeks. 

Kobbie Mainoo: Manchester United star scores late, gives lifeline as Red Devils edge past Wolves in an enthralling encounter

Manchester United has found a new gem in their hands as academy product Kobbie Mainoo scored a heroic goal in the final minutes of a high-octane clash against Wolves at Molineux Stadium, thus handing Erik Ten Hag’s side a massive victory with the return of Premier League.

Manchester United outsmarts Wolves

Manchester United continued their cynical performance as Erik Ten Hag’s side completed a heroic victory against Wolves, in a game which involved a rollercoaster of emotions, see-sawing the fate of both sides till the last minute. The game started with a huge goal from Marcus Rashford, as the homegrown star comes back into the squad after a brief disciplinary handling, which saw the star out of the team against Newport in FA Cup, followed by a Hojlund banger, as the Danish pounced upon the opponent defence, thus doubling the lead. 

But, it was a typical United frailty which got exposed as in the second half, Pablo Sarabia scored from the spot, thus pegging back things for the Wolves. Although Scott McTominay scored the moment he stepped into the field, United defence hit rock bottom when Kilman and Pedro Neto scored in quick succession, thus keeping the game tied at 3-3.

With the game tied at 3-3, United youngster Kobbie Mainoo, the star, who has been quite in the spotlight since the last few games, decided to go all guns blazing, and scored the winner in a classic style, thus helping Erik Ten Hag’s side with a memorable victory.  

“Dream Come True”

Mainoo was heard speaking after the game in a candid chat with interviewers, as he said about the importance of his goal and the victory on the road. He said, “It is a dream come true. It is a tough place to come. We had to get the win. I have still not come down from it. I still feel like I am dreaming to be honest. To start playing in the Premier League for my boyhood club has been amazing. Now it’s about trying to win more games.”

United skipper Bruno Fernandes said, “He is a big talent. I have seen him play for the under-18s and I said a couple of years ago the name of Kobbie without knowing if he would come and play for the first team.”

Ten Hag was heard after the game, as his side blew the lead of 2-0 and 3-1, especially heaping praise on Mainoo. He said, “The way we conceded goals shouldn’t happen, but then we showed resilience. Especially Kobbie Mainoo. It was a great goal.”

With this outstanding victory, United stayed on the seventh spot in the Premier League table, mustering 35 points from 22 games, staying closely on the heels of West Ham United. Wolves are on the 11th spot, and might need to look up to their upcoming games, as the Premier League has indeed returned with a bang.

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