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Matic takes responsibility for ‘shameful’ performance

The Red Devils have now conceded more goals than they have in any previous Premier League season.

Nemanja Matic says Manchester United’s senior players are to blame for the team’s catastrophic 4-0 defeat to Everton. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team capitulated at Goodison Park as they failed to take advantage of other teams’ slip-ups as they chase down a top-four place in the Premier League.

United looked beaten by half-time after goals from Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson put Everton two up at the break, before Lucas Digne and Theo Walcott followed up in the second half to condemn the visitors to a sorry defeat. And afterwards, Matic said that it was the responsibility of the team’s more experienced members to shoulder the blame for the collapse.

“It’s one of the worst games for me personally, and for the team,” said the Serbian.

“I think we deserved to lose. We did not play how we wanted to play. It’s hard for me to speak about. It’s not for the young players. I’m one of the most senior players. If anyone is to blame for this it’s me. When you win the battle in midfield it’s easier to play. We didn’t do that today.”

Everton collectively outran United by 8 kilometres at Goodison Park, on a day when the visitors saw their goals-against tally tick over to 48 in the league.

That set a Premier League record for the 20-time champions, who have now conceded more goals than they did in what was previously their most porous season. The team let in 45 goals in 1999/00 and 2001/02, but this season’s record looks set to cost them a place in the top four and consequently next season’s Champions League.

“It’s shameful,” said Matic. “We have to look for the mirror, everyone has to see where he made mistake and what he must do better.

“The more guilty are the more experienced players and in this case it’s me. It’s difficult to answer what is wrong. Our approach to the game was not good, everyone needs to take responsibility during the game, with the ball, without the ball, everyone needs to run more then our quality will show. “

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Everton fans chanted ‘Fatty, what’s the score?’ at Lukaku

Manchester United began the most defining week of their season in the worst possible way on Easter Sunday as they were thumped 4-0 at Everton. It only took the hosts 12 minutes to take the lead through Richarlison’s acrobatic finish and Gylfi Sigurdsson beat David de Gea from more than 25 yards out to double the advantage.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried to impact things at half-time by taking off Phil Jones and Fred, but two more Everton goals within eight second-half minutes compounded United’s misery. The damning defeat would have been especially tough to digest for Romelu Lukaku, who was returning to Goodison Park for the very first time since leaving Everton in 2017.

Man Utd’s £75 million signing failed to register a single shot during the match, and his former set of supporters directed a pretty brutal chant at him in the Merseyside sunshine. Solskjaer selected Lukaku in his starting XI, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial either side of him, but it took the attacking trio 86 minutes to test Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal.

With 26 minutes still to play, the Toffees were 4-0 up and in dreamland, so it was the perfect opportunity for their fans to truly rub it in by trolling Lukaku. Everton supporters in the Gwladys Street end at Goodison Park proceeded to chant: “Fatty, what’s the score? Fatty fatty, what’s the score?!” directly at their former striker.

 

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Barca have to suffer to win – Valverde

The Blaugrana are champions-elect in the eyes of many but their coach envisages plenty of hard work ahead in the bid for a second straight title. Ernesto Valverde is taking nothing for granted in Barcelona’s quest for LaLiga glory despite Saturday’s 2-1 win against Real Sociedad bringing the title within touching distance.

Goals from Clement Lenglet and Jordi Alba either side of Juanmi’s 62nd-minute equaliser at Camp Nou maintained a nine-point lead over Atletico Madrid at the summit.  They also remain in contention for a third treble thanks to the 3-0 dispatch of Manchester United midweek that saw the Catalans march into the Champions League semi-finals.

If Barca beat Deportivo Alaves on Tuesday and Atleti fail to do likewise against Valencia 24 hours later, Valverde’s men would retain their title by virtue of having a 12-point lead with four matches to play and a superior head-to-head record.  Spots in the Champions League last four and the Copa del Rey final mean the campaign could end with a clean sweep of major honours, but complacency is not on Valverde’s agenda.

“The games are not given to you, you suffer a lot to win,” the Barca head coach told reporters after the final whistle.

“Winning is much more complicated than people think. I understand people when they say that we are already champions and that we just have to wait for the date, but the points have yet to be achieved.  We have to get that idea out of our heads. This is not over yet.”

Valverde acknowledged Sociedad made life tough for his team.

“It was an uncomfortable match because they were very good and made it very difficult for us off the ball.  Fortunately, we got the second goal very quickly [after the equaliser] and then we defended it tooth and nail because they pushed us a lot.”

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Solskjaer: Utd won’t buy 6 players in summer

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said there is no “quick fix” to the club’s struggles and has ruled out making major changes in the transfer window. United were comprehensively beaten 4-0 on aggregate against Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals and are well off the pace in the Premier League, with Manchester City and Liverpool in a two-way fight for the title.

Solskjaer’s side are in a real battle to finish in the top four this season but he has told fans not to expect major changes in the transfer window following a difficult campaign that saw Jose Mourinho sacked in December.

“There will be new players coming in over summer but I don’t think you can expect six,” Solskjaer said.

“I don’t think any manager you ask would be in favour of that amount of change anyway. We want to rebuild but it is going to have to be gradual, over a few windows. We plan to be in the top four, we plan to be in the Champions League next season and we want players who can keep us in the Champions League and move us up the table. But we know there is not going to be a quick fix. We have to take it step by step.”

United have lost five out of their past seven matches and Solskjaer has warned any under-performing players they will be moved towards the exit.

“When I was given the job there was an understanding that we had to get Manchester United’s DNA back into the club and the team,” he added. “That doesn’t mean I want to live in the past. It would be naive to tell players to do all the same things we did when I played. But I want to create a culture that we all believe in.

“When I played the manager trusted us and we took responsibility for our own careers. If anyone stepped out of bounds, they wouldn’t stay here long. That’s the way it has to be at a club like this.”

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Ronaldo first to win Prem, La Liga, Serie A titles

Cristiano Ronaldo reached a titles milestone as Juventus clinched an eighth-consecutive Serie A crown with a 2-1 victory over Fiorentina, as they came from behind following a below-par first half.

The Bianconeri had been heavy favourites to win the title this season following the signing of Ronaldo in the summer and it appeared a matter of when rather than if as they remained unbeaten for the first seven months of the season until a 2-0 loss at Genoa ended that run on March 17. Last weekend, they had the opportunity to wrap up the title but suffered a shock loss at SPAL and it appeared the were ready to blow a second opportunity to clinch the title as they fell behind early on at the Allianz Stadium.

Defender Nikola Milenkovic gave the visitors the lead after just six minutes and Vincenzo Montella’s side missed a host of clear-cut chances as they hit Juve on the break before Alex Sandro equalised with a stunning header on 37 minutes. Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa, who had earlier hit the post then struck the bar, while Giovanni Simeone also came close — but was flagged offside.

But, while not looking at their absolute best, Juventus were much improved after the interval and took the lead when Ronaldo’s cross was diverted past his own goalkeeper by La Viola captain German Pezzella on 53 minutes.

Juventus are 20 points clear of second-place Napoli with five games left to play and extend their record of 35 Serie A titles, while they are first team in Europe’s top five leagues to win the championship in eight consecutive seasons. Ronaldo has become the first player to win the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A titles.

Meanwhile, Juventus’ Women made it a double celebration as they, too, won Serie A for a second consecutive season. A 3-0 victory over Verona ensured they finished a point clear of second-place Fiorentina, with AC Milan — who were also in contention going into the final day — four points further back after losing at home by Firmauto Valpolicella.

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Man City exploring move for €120m Joao Felix

The Blues face serious competition from leading clubs and are reluctant to pay a €120m buy-out clause, but do want to strike a deal. Manchester City are exploring a big-money move for Benfica forward Joao Felix this summer. City are planning to reinforce their attack ahead of next season and have also been keeping tabs on Frankfurt forward Luka Jovic.

Felix has also caught City’s eye in recent months, and the Premier League champions are working out whether they can make a move to the Etihad Stadium possible in the face of serious interest from Europe’s top clubs. The 19-year-old, who can play on either wing or through the middle, has scored 16 goals in 38 matches in all competitions during his breakthrough season.

Several City players are also believed to be keen to see Felix join the club. City’s sporting director, Txiki Begiristain, travelled to Lisbon last week to watch Benfica’s Europa League game against Frankfurt, where Felix scored a hat-trick. Begiristain paid particular attention to both Jovic and Felix.

Given the high level of interest in latter, City are working hard to ensure they win the race for his signature The youngster is also wanted by Juventus and Manchester United, among others, and City do not want to be drawn into a bidding war, nor pay his release clause, which is set at €120 million (£103m/$135m).

Agent Jorge Mendes is overseeing Felix’s potential transfer and that could help City’s cause. Begiristain recently met Mendes to ascertain the lay of the land regarding Felix’s future, as well as several topics regarding current City players who are represented by the Portuguese agent. In the past, City have offset the transfer fees paid for Mendes clients by allowing him to arrange sales of his other players already on the books at the Etihad Stadium.

That could be an option for City this summer, with Eliaquim Mangala and potentially Nicolas Otamendi open to leaving the club at the end of the season. But while Begiristain and Mendes have an excellent relationship, that is also the case with the agent and most top sporting directors in Europe.

It was reported in Italy on Monday that Juventus are hopeful of signing Félix by taking advantage of their ties with Mendes, who helped take Cristiano Ronaldo to Turin last summer. But Goal understands that Juventus have also been put off by Benfica’s desire to receive the full release clause, having had an €80m (£70m/$90m) approach knocked back earlier in April.

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Van Dijk, Mane on PFA awards list, no Salah

Manchester City and Liverpool dominate the Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year award with Raheem Sterling and Virgil van Dijk among those shortlisted. Sergio Aguero, Sadio Mane, Bernardo Silva and Eden Hazard join Sterling and Van Dijk on the six-man list, with last year’s winner Mohamed Salah failing to make the cut. There is also no place for Kevin De Bruyne, who lost out to Salah last term.

Van Dijk, a £75 million signing from Southampton in January 2018, is the favourite to take the trophy following a fine season at Liverpool, with the club battling City for the Premier League title and also in the Champions League semifinals. Van Dijk and Liverpool have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season, with just 20 goals conceded in 34 matches. Mane, with 10 goals in his past 11 matches in all competitions for club and country, joins his Liverpool teammate and with 18 goals, is one behind Aguero in the leading scorers’ chart.

Sterling has scored 23 goals and provided 16 assists so far, with City looking to put their Champions League disappointment behind them and win the Premier League for the second season in succession. Silva and Sterling also feature on the Young Player of the Year shortlist along with Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, West Ham’s Declan Rice and Bournemouth’s David Brooks.

Chelsea’s Fran Kirby does not make the shortlist for the women’s award but Manchester City trio Steph Houghton, Nikita Parris and Keira Walsh are among the nominees alongside Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert and Ji So-yun, and Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema. The winners, voted for by the PFA members, will be announced at the annual awards ceremony on April 28.

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Ronaldo ‘1,000%’ staying as Juventus clinch title

Cristiano Ronaldo has said it is “1,000 percent” certain he is staying at Juventus next season after he clinched the Serie A title in his first season with the club. Juve, having passed up the opportunity to secure the Scudetto last weekend, made sure against Fiorentina with a 2-1 victory, which meant second-place Napoli could no longer catch them.

Italian media reports that Ronaldo was looking to leave after the disappointment of exiting the Champions League at the hands of Ajax were denied by Massimiliano Allegri in the lead up this match, and the Portugal international has now put the notion to bed.

“I’m really happy to have won the Italian title in my first season here. It has been a great season for this Juventus, we also won the Italian Supercup,” said Ronaldo, who has scored 19 league goals. “We didn’t do so well in the Champions League but there is always next year.”

Asked whether he would be wearing a Juventus shirt next season, Ronaldo added: “1,000 percent.”

Giorgio Chiellini has been part of all eight of Juve’s consecutive title wins — as well as the 2005-06 victory which was later taken away following the Calciopoli scandal — but this was his first as captain. And the Italy international, who missed the match against Fiorentina through injury, said the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid man is be a “milestone” for himself and his teammates.

“Cristiano arrived with great humility and helped us improve — all of us,” Chiellini said. “He is totally dedicated to football. He is different to the others and to us he is a milestone for the future. I had no doubts he would stay.”

Chiellini also paid tribute to centre-back partner Andrea Barzagli who recently announced he would be retiring at the end of the season.

“I would also like to say a few special words about Barzagli who, like good wine, has improved with age,” the 34-year-old added. “He is really unique. He makes everything seem so simple and deserves a special send off.”

 

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Ibrahimovic closes in on MLS record

The Swede struck again from the penalty spot, pulling him within striking distance of a long-standing MLS record.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to light up Major League Soccer, and is closing in on a historic mark as he nears a full-season worth of matches for the LA Galaxy.  Ibrahimovic was on target again on Friday night, scoring from the penalty spot as the LA Galaxy took a 2-1 win over the previously unbeaten Houston Dynamo.

The 37-year-old forward netted his seventh goal of the current MLS season on Friday, putting him second in the scoring charts behind crosstown rival Carlos Vela. More importantaly, the goal was the 29th scored by the former Manchester United and PSG star since joining the league, with that total coming in just 32 matches.

That total leaves Ibrahimovic just three goals shy of Mamadou Diallo​, who holds the record for the best full-season start in MLS history with 32 goals in his first 34 matches back in 2000 and 2001.  His two chances to break that mark will, should he not be rested, come against Minnesota United on Wednesday and Real Salt Lake next Sunday.

“We’re doing good, I know we can do more,” Ibrahimovic told the club’s website earlier this week. “We work hard. Individually I feel very good. I feel comfortable, safe with what I’m doing. And I want to do more. I have a lot of will, a lot of hunger to achieve my objectives. I work hard for it and I’m not satisfied with what I have done so far. I want more.”

Another player off to a flying start in MLS is Toronto FC ‘s Alejandro Pozuelo, who netted twice in a 4-3 win for TFC on Friday night over Minnesota.

The man brought in to replace Sebastian Giovinco​ has lived up to the billing and leads the league in assists, but turned into a scoring machine against the Loons.  With his club down 1-0 in the first half, Pozuelo scored twice in the space of 110 seconds, tying a club record, to put his team out in front heading into halftime.

Minnesota United came back with two goals of their own before a late Jordan Hamilton​ double handed TFC its fourth win in six matches to open the season as the club battles with D.C. United for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

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Neymar in line for PSG return

Head coach Thomas Tuchel has said the attacker is desperate to get back on the pitch after his lengthy foot injury. Neymar could be in line to make his Paris Saint-Germain return against Monaco on Sunday, claimed head coach Thomas Tuchel.

The Brazil superstar has not played competitively since damaging a metatarsal in a Coupe de France win over Strasbourg on January 23. Neymar, who has 13 goals in as many Ligue 1 outings this term, began training earlier this month but has not yet been fit enough to feature. However, Tuchel says Neymar is closing on a comeback, which may come this weekend against  Monaco as PSG attempt to finally wrap up the title after missed opportunities against Strasbourg, Lille and Nantes.

“We have to wait, there are two training sessions left. Maybe it will be Sunday, I hope,” Tuchel told a pre-match news conference.

“Neymar trained a lot with us, he worked hard and strong. He is impatient it is clear, when he is with us at training he shows it. I can feel that Ney feels free, he is not afraid, he is confident, he hits, he is decisive during the training matches.”

The former Barcelona man was on the receiving end of some robust challenges earlier this season, culminating in his long-term injury in January. Tuchel had a warning for the league’s referees, saying Neymar needs more protection.

“For me the most important about him is that he feels free on the field, happy, protected by the referee, I hope he stays with his style of play and his passion because he is a special player, everyone arrives in the stadium to watch him play. If all players play at times to avoid contacts it’s a shame.”

In other team news, Thomas Meunier and captain Thiago Silva remain absent, while Tuchel said late decisions will be taken on a host of other first-team stars, including Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria.

“For [Julian] Draxler, Marquinhos, Cavani and Di Maria, we have to wait, I’m not sure they are in the group. It is possible, but the opposite is possible too.”

PSG are on a surprising three-game winless run, having dropped points in just three of the previous 23 games. A victory for the Parisians this weekend would ensure they collect their eighth domestic title.