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EPL: Bellerin, Tierney close to return for Arsenal as ankle injury rules out Lacazette until October


Arsenal Lacazette

With ankle injury ruling Arsenal striker, Alexandre Lacazette out of action for the North London club until October, coach Unai Emery did have some positive injury news ahead of their game with Watford as he confirmed defenders Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney are close to a return to action after injury.

While neither will be available for the trip to Vicarage Road, Emery says they will get minutes with the U23s to regain match fitness.

The full statement on Arsenal’s website said:

“After assessments to an ongoing ankle issue, we have advised that Alex will need to rest and strengthen his ankle to regain full fitness.

“Alex has been playing through this injury for several weeks. He is likely to be back in action in October.”

Lacazette has already scored two goals in three matches this season, including the Gunners’ first goal as they came from two-down to draw 2-2 at home to Tottenham in the north London derby before the international break.

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The 28-year-old will miss Sunday’s trip to Watford as well as their away game with Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League on Thursday.

He is also expected to miss the Premier League games against Aston Villa and Manchester United, plus the visit of Nottingham Forest to the Emirates in the Carabao Cup.

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While neither Bellerin nor Tierney will be available for the trip to Vicarage Road, Emery said they will get minutes with the U23s to regain match fitness.

Emery said:

“They are now close to us but they need to continue to work,” the Gunners boss said. “This week they trained normally with us for the first time.

“Next week we want to see them train normally and after we can decide if they can play with the U23s or with us.”


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Atalanta’s dream ends with cruel late double strike from PSG



  The Champions League knockout stages produce great drama and the single-game format for this season’s quarter-finals intensified the emotions as Paris St Germain struck twice in the final minutes to end the fairytale for debutants Atalanta.

Although the team from Bergamo, the Italian town of around 120,000, had never qualified for the Champions League before, they were moments away from humbling the financial powerhouse of PSG, backed by the oil wealth of the club’s Qatari owners.

Then PSG struck twice, with Brazilian defender Marquinhos scoring in the 90th minute before substitute Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting decided the contest in stoppage time.

Atalanta’s hopes of glory were suddenly snatched from their grasp and the sense of destiny, of romance, that had surrounded Gian Piero Gasperini’s team suddenly evaporated into the night air at the empty Estadio da Luz.

There was no second leg, no away goals calculation, nothing other than the finality of defeat, of history being rewritten in a matter of seconds.

It was so cruel on the Italian side, who had worked so hard and had taken the lead with a beautiful 27th-minute goal from their Croatia midfielder Mario Pasalic.

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But when Atalanta finally reflects on the loss they will surely acknowledge that they had been helped by some wasteful finishing by PSG, in particular from their Brazil striker Neymar, and the alert goalkeeping of Marco Sportiello.

Whatever memories Atalanta fans have of this defeat, they won’t include celebrating their goal in the stands or singing to console their heroes who collapsed on the turf at the final whistle.

Due to the COVID-19 related restrictions, there were no supporters of either team inside the 64,000 capacity stadium and so the biggest night of Atalanta’s 112-year history was one of frustration in front of the television for their supporters.

A handful of the most passionate had, inevitably, made the trip to Lisbon anyway, choosing to at least be close to the hope-for miracle, watching in bars in the Portuguese capital.

Some made their way out to the stadium before the game to greet the players as they arrived on their bus at the gates to the stadium, which is the home of Benfica, providing Gasperini’s men with a reminder of who they were playing for.

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“It is a strong emotion. I’ve been watching Atalanta for 40 years and I couldn’t miss this game, even if you can’t enter the stadium,” Manuel Colombo, bedecked in a black and blue striped facemask, told Reuters.

“Time moves forward. Who knows whether we will ever get a game like this again?” he added.

But throughout the long build-up to this game, since the Champions League was suspended in March, the particularly strong impact of the novel coronavirus on Bergamo has been present in the thoughts of those involved with the club.

At the height of the virus outbreak, Bergamo’s hospitals were overwhelmed with infected people and, with morgues unable to keep up, convoys of army trucks carrying away the dead became a chilling symbol of the global pandemic.

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Colombo paused before reflecting on that aspect of Atalanta’s campaign and his journey to Lisbon.

“We have to think today about those people who died due to COVID before their time, those many grandparents who took their grandchildren to see Atalanta for the first time and who aren’t with us anymore. I am thinking about them above all,” he said.

This Atalanta team will still be remembered as heroes by Colombo and all the club’s fans, having gifted the ‘Bergamaschi’ an unimaginable season of success in a year of such pain.

But those neutrals who felt robbed of a story of football romance can take some solace in the smile on the face of the unlikely match-winner Cameroon international Choupo-Moting.

The 31-year-old, who signed on a free transfer after suffering relegation from the English Premier League with Stoke City and originally left out of PSG’s squad for the Champions League knockout stages, was the toast of Paris.

Such a pity that no fans were there to witness it.

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Bayern Munich praise Messi ahead of tricky UEFA Champions League duel



Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has expressed his big admiration for FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi ahead of their 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League duel.

The Argentina captain is playing against the Bavarians in a match which could however condemn the Catalans to a season without titles.

The sides meet in a one-legged quarter-final on Friday.

“I have a lot of respect for this player. He has something that possibly no one else on this planet has. He can decide a game on his own,” Rummenigge told reporters.

“He’s a player that you have to watch closely and from whom you also have to take some of the fun out of the game.

“He’s a player who wants to have fun with football. If you take a little of that fun away from him by trying to take him out of the game tactically, then there is a good chance for Bayern Munich,’’ the former Germany captain said.

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Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona have each won the elite event five times.

They are the only ex-champions in the eight-team field for the Lisbon mini-tournament, which was to open later Wednesday and runs until Aug. 23.

Bayern Munich midfielder Leon Goretzka said the only way to stop Messi is “collectively.”

“Everyone knows what a gifted footballer he is. He is capable of finding many solutions also in tight situations. We will have to fight back as a team,” Goretzka said.

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“Whether you can actually take away his fun in the game, I don’t know.”

Messi has not much fun this season as Barca had to settle for second in the league behind arch-rivals Real Madrid and they also did not make it to the Spanish Cup final.

“Everything has been bad since January,” Messi said, adding that Barca had been “an inconsistent, bad team.”

Barca appears more dependent on the now 33-year-old than ever before, as shown in the 3-1 last 16 wins over Napoli where he scored one goal and set up another.

Neither Ernesto Valverde and his successor Quique Setien have been accepted as a leading coach by the club’s stars.

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There is also unrest at the top of the club around the upcoming presidential elections.

Expensive signings over recent years such as Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho have struggled, and Antoine Griezmann is also yet to show his full potential at Barca.

That leaves only Messi, who has been at the center of transfer gossip that he could leave for Inter Milan next year.

He now wants to win the event he has scored 115 goals in for the fifth time.

“Anything is possible with this Messi,” a sports newspaper said.

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UEFA Champions League: Barcelona player tests positive for Covid-19



An unnamed Barcelona player has tested positive to COVID-19, though their upcoming Champions League clash with Bayern Munich is not in doubt.

According to the Spanish club, the player who tested positive was not included in Quique Setien’s final shortlist for Friday’s quarter-final tie against Bayern.

The statement released by Barcelona read;

“Following PCR tests conducted this Tuesday afternoon on the group of nine players due to begin the pre-season today, one of them has tested positive for Covid-19.

“The player has no symptoms, is in good health and has been quarantined at his home. The club has reported the matter to the relevant sporting and health authorities.

“All persons who have been in contact with the player have been tracked to perform the corresponding PCR tests.

“The player has not been in contact with any of the senior team players who are scheduled to travel to Lisbon this Thursday to compete in the Champions League.”

The statement also linked to a page confirming the nine players that had returned to pre-season training, including Pedri, Trincao, Matheus Fernandes, Jean-Clair Todibo, Moussa Wague, Carles Alena, Rafinha, Juan Miranda and Oriol Busquets.

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