The odometer-spinning year of Chelsea’s Juan Mata

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Until The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield published the total this morning, I hadn’t realized just how busy Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata has been since July. That’s when he began appearing for Spain at least year’s European Championships – the beginning of a road that’s taken him through the London Olympics, England’s various competitions, Champions and Europa League duties as well as World Cup qualifying. All told, the 24-year-old has already made 60 appearances for club and country since July.

With three more months left in that July-to-June cycle, how big could Mata’s game total get? NBA big. Here are the potential appearances he could make through the end of June:

  • Premier League: Starting with tomorrow’s visit from Sunderland, Chelsea have 8 games left in their league campaign.
  • FA Cup: Next weekend, Chelsea takes on Manchester City in the semifinals. That leaves the Blues with the potential for 2 games at Wembley.
  • Europa League: They’re at Rubin Kazan next Thursday and on track for the semifinals. That’s another two-legger before a potential one-off final. That’s 4 games, if all goes well.
  • International: Spain has June friendlies against Northern Ireland and Haiti before heading to the Confederations Cup. If the reigning world champions make that competition’s final, they’ll play 5 games in Brazil.

Juan Mata is probably not going to play 81 games this year, but it’s still amazing that he could, particularly given his prodigious statistical output. Granted, those aren’t independent variables. Mata’s strong performance makes his more likely to rack-up high appearance numbers. That his performance hasn’t suffered with continued use is what’s so remarkable.

In 52 matches for Chelsea, Mata has an astounding 30 assists and 18 goals, and with Mata yet to buckle under the effects of his odometer-spinning year, those numbers are going to climb. From Fifield’s piece:

“How many?” he asks, as if confirmation might suddenly have offered a revelatory explanation for all those aches and pains that had been mystifying him for weeks. “But am I knackered? No, no, not at all. Sure, it’s been a busy season, but I feel the desire to play more and more. I’m still fresh.”

Though Mata’s situation is extreme, high appearance totals go hand-in-hand with Spanish national team success. Players like Sergio Ramos and Xavi Hernández have also been pushed by club achievement and international demands.

With Mata likely to become even more important for Spain going forward, those demands are unlikely to ebb. Not every year will lead to 81-game possibilities, but Mata’s odometer won’t get a real rest anytime soon.

Man Utd see off Brighton to join Spurs in FA Cup semis

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho has come under heavy scrutiny in recent days and weeks, as his Manchester United side crashed out of the Champions League this week and continue to trail runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City by 16 points, yet the Portuguese is perhaps just 180 minutes from finishing the 2017-18 with a major trophy anyway.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Swansea to reach FA Cup semis ]

Man United got the best of Brighton & Hove Albion, to the tune of 2-0 at Old Trafford on Saturday, to book their spot at Wembley Stadium in the semifinals of the FA Cup. Romelu Lukaku scored the winning goal not long before halftime, with United grinding out another laborious result with superstars Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez glued to the bench for the whole of 90 minutes.

United enjoyed a healthy 61 percent of possession in the game, but were out-shot by the 12th-place side in the PL by a sizable margin, 16-8 (4-2 on target).

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores ] 

Lukaku’s rampage through the FA Cup continued in the 37th minute, as the big Belgian striker bagged not only his 23rd goal of the season in all competitions, but his fifth of the tournament thus far and extended his record of having scored in each round to four games.

Nemanja Matic floated a cross from the let side of the box to the back post, where Lukaku had created a yard or two of space for himself. Tim Krul didn’t come out to catch it, and Lukaku headed it just under the crossbar to give the Old Trafford faithful reason to smile again.

[ PREVIEW: Who will join Spurs, United at Wembley?

It was Matic who got on the end of another back-post ball, this one from an Ashley Young free kick, in the 84th minute to put United two goals ahead and secure the club’s second FA Cup semifinals appearance in seven seasons (United enjoyed a run of five final-four appearances out of eight in the years prior).

Tottenham Hotspur, who trail United by four points in the race for second in the PL, were the first side to advance to this season’s semifinals by winning 3-0 away to Swansea City on Saturday.

Bundesliga wrap: Schalke win late to stave off chasing pack

AP Photo/Michael Sohn
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BERLIN (AP) Schalke needed a penalty save and a late own goal to scramble a 1-0 win at Wolfsburg and retain second place in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Substitute Breel Embolo helped create the decider when his pass across the box was turned into his own net by Robin Knoche four minutes from time.

Schalke goalkeeper Ralf Faehrmann saved Paul Verhaegh’s penalty in the 76th minute after Matija Nastasic had fouled Riechedly Bazoer.

“This is the work of our entire goalkeeping team,” Faehrmann said of his stop. “I don’t want to boast about it on my own, we’re always meticulously prepared for such situations.”

Schalke’s fifth consecutive win opened a four-point advantage over third-place Borussia Dortmund, which hosts Hannover on Sunday.

Wolfsburg is 15th.

“We played well and then missed the penalty and conceded a goal,” Knoche said. “I’m sorry for the team.”

Runaway leader Bayern Munich is 17 points clear before visiting Leipzig on Sunday.

Eintracht Frankfurt kept in the hunt for a top-four finish, and a Champions League berth, by beating Mainz 3-0.

Kevin-Prince Boateng put Eintracht in front after six minutes. Ante Rebic set up Luka Jovic for the second goal and Rebic finished off a counterattack before halftime.

Eintracht is fourth ahead of fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen’s trip to Cologne on Sunday.

Matthias Ginter netted in the 89th minute as Borussia Monchengladbach came from behind three times to draw 3-3 at home to seventh-place Hoffenheim.

Benjamin Hubner scored with a header before substitute Josip Drmic replied for Gladbach in the first half.

Andrej Kramaric converted a penalty after Jonas Hofmann had fouled Serge Gnabry to put Hoffenheim back in front. Lars Stindl then leveled before Florian Grillitsch quickly restored the visitors’ advantage.

Ninth-place Gladbach was staring at defeat until Ginter turned in Raffael’s cross at the far post to snatch a point that kept his team in the hunt for a Europa League berth.

Werder Bremen continued to climb away from danger after Algerian forward Ishak Belfodil grabbed two goals in a 3-1 win at Augsburg.

Belfodil was twice on target before halftime. Rani Khedira pulled one back for Augsburg before Max Kruse secured the points.

Werder is 12th after a fourth victory in six matches.

Hertha Berlin rallied for a 2-1 victory at relegation-haunted Hamburg.

Douglas Santos put Hamburg ahead before halftime, only for Valentino Lazaro and Salomon Kalou to turn the match around in the 56th and 63rd minutes.

Hamburg, the only club never to be relegated from the Bundesliga, is seven points from safety after 14 matches without a victory.

Morocco to spend $16B on 2026 World Cup venues, infrastructure

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
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Morocco says it will need to spend almost $16 billion to prepare to host the 2026 World Cup, with every proposed stadium and training ground built from scratch or renovated.

With less than three months until the FIFA vote, the north African nation on Saturday presented details of its proposal to take on the joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The North American bid plans to rely on existing infrastructure, including large NFL stadiums already hosting events.

When FIFA insiders score the bids, infrastructure – of which half relates to stadiums – will account for 70 percent of the panel’s mark. The remaining 30 percent is based on projected costs and revenues. A high-risk bid can be disqualified before the FIFA Congress votes on June 13.

Morocco says for $3 billion it can build nine stadiums, refurbish five others and build or renovate 130 training grounds.

That is part of the $12.6 billion in public investment that also requires hospital services being upgraded in 20 cities and transport networks improved for the first 48-team World Cup.

The bid says another $3.2 billion of private investment is required to build hotels.

Morocco’s bid team told The Associated Press that the projections had been “carefully costed” but could not provide a breakdown on how the figures were reached.

Liverpool 5-0 Watford: Salah runs riot

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  • Salah now leads PL with 28 goals, has 36 in all competitions
  • Liverpool rise to third in PL table
  • Watford eight points above bottom three

Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 at Anfield on Saturday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men eased to victory in the snow and are now seven points clear of fifth-place Chelsea in the table.

Mohamed Salah scored four goals to secure his first hat trick for Liverpool and he set up Roberto Firmino for Liverpool’s other goal. The Egyptian is now the leading scorer in the Premier League with 28 for the season.

With the win Liverpool cement their spot in the top four and have 63 points with seven games to go, while Watford slip to 11th but are well clear of relegation trouble and have 36 points on the board.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

It took Liverpool less than four minutes to break the deadlock as Sadio Mane found Salah in the box and the Egyptian winger did the rest.

Salah cut past multiple Watford defenders with ease before slotting home coolly for his 25th goal of the Premier League season. 1-0 to the Reds.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

After that goal arrived Liverpool at back and looked dangerous with Roberto Firmino denied by an excellent stop from Karnezis after being played clean through.

Watford grew in stature as the first half wore on but then Salah popped up with his and Liverpool’s second of the game. Mane found Robertson on the left and his cross found Salah unmarked at the back post to tap home. 2-0. Too easy.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Liverpool started the second half well and Salah caused havoc as he cut inside from the right and his cross found Firmino at the near post. The Brazilian forward flicked home with his back heel to make it 3-0 and put the result beyond doubt. Another majestic Liverpool goal.

Pereyra almost got a goal back for Watford straight after going 3-0 down but his whipped free kick from the left clipped the cross bar and went over.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

For the latter stages Liverpool kept the ball and created chances when they wanted to as Salah completed his hat trick in fine fashion. The Egyptian wriggled free of four Watford players, cut back twice and slotted home to make it 4-0. Salah is on another planet.

Danny Ings came on late in the game and his shot was well-saved by Karnezis and then Ings was denied by Karnezis soon after but that man Salah was there to clean up and net his fourth of the game and make it 5-0.