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.

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Grimsby Town vs. Derby County
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm

Celtic qualify for UEFA Champions League group stage

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Celtic survived a scare in Kazakhstan to qualify for the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the second season on the trot.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Brendan Rodgers‘ side beat FC Astana 5-0 in the first leg of their playoff last week at Celtic Park but the trip to Kazakhstan proved much trickier with Astana leading 4-1 late in the game which had pulled the score back to 6-4 on aggregate.

However, Scott Sinclair had scored a priceless away goal to make it 1-1 at half time and despite a late flurry of goals for the hosts Olivier Ntcham scored a deflected effort and Leigh Griffiths wrapped things up late on as Celtic lost 4-3 on the night but went through 8-4 on aggregate.

Last season the Scottish champions went out in the UCL group stage after being drawn with Manchester City, Barcelona and Borussia Monchengladbach and will be hoping for a kinder draw this time around.

Premier League clubs on League Cup upset alert

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The second round of the League Cup (known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18 for sponsorship reasons) kicks off on Tuesday with 13 Premier League clubs in action.

[ MORE: League Cup scores live ]

All 13 have been drawn against lower-league opposition and those klaxons you can hear signify upset alerts.

Below is a look at how each Premier League club will get on as they enter the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday with a ranking on each game out of 10, with 10 being the most likely for an upset to occur.

Remember: the seven PL teams in European competition will enter the League Cup in the third round.


Upset alert ranking for PL clubs

Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 8/10
Brighton vs. Barnet – 4/10
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom – 7/10
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City – 6/10
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth – 7/10
Watford vs. Bristol City – 5/10
MK Dons vs. Swansea City – 5/10

Wednesday
Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest – 6/10
Southampton vs. Wolves – 7/10
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United – 7/10
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United – 8/10
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 6/10
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley – 6/10

Barcelona sues Neymar for $10 million signing bonus

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona is suing Neymar for the $10 million bonus it paid the Brazil striker for signing a contract he later broke to join Paris Saint-Germain on a world-record transfer.

Barcelona said on Tuesday that it wants Neymar to pay back the bonus for a contract in Oct. 2016 that tied him to the club through 2021. It also wants an additional 10 percent interest.

Neymar was able to leave Barcelona earlier this month after PSG paid 222 million euros ($262 million) to trigger a release clause included in his contract.

Barcelona said in a statement that it “has taken these actions in defense of its interests after the unilateral breaking of the contract carried out by Neymar just a few months after having signed his renewal.”

The club is also demanding that PSG pay the money, if Neymar is unable to do so.

Barcelona said the suit was filed on Aug. 11.