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Nicolas Anelka excused from West Brom on “compassionate grounds”

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Controversy today at West Bromwich Albion where initial reports from Sky Sports News indicated that striker Nicolas Anelka had walked out on the club and announced he will retire with immediate effect.

The Tweet from @skysportsnews said: “West Brom’s Nicolas Anelka walks out of training and tells staff he is retiring #SSN.”

We can now confirm that this tweets was factually inaccurate and that @skysportsnews has since re-phrased their classification of the situation: “West Brom have confirmed Nicolas Anelka will miss Saturday’s game with Everton amid reports he may retire.”

West Brom have also quashed the initial Sky tweet by announcing the striker will merely miss Saturday’s game at Everton: “West Bromwich Albion can confirm that Nicolas Anelka will not be involved in Saturday’s game at Everton. The club have excused the striker from club duty on compassionate grounds.”

An article from Birmingham Mail reporter Chris Lepkowski sheds the best (albeit limited) light on what went down in the Midlands earlier today.

Apparently, Anelka raised major doubts over his Albion future after walking out before training on Thursday morning. The 34 year old striker cleared out his belongings before speaking to sporting and technical director Richard Garlick. The walk out, however, was not due to any sort of bust up between Anelka and Baggies management.

Through Mr. Lepkowski’s Twitter handle (@chrislepkowski) he now claims that one of Anelka’s agents has passed away. The death has caused Anelka “great distress” and was the reason for his rather abrupt departure from the ground.

At this point in time, there is nothing to suggest that this tragedy somehow corresponds with Anelka retiring.

Here’s what we do know about Anelka, his recent situation at West Brom and prior comments the Frenchman has made regarding life after football.

Anelka signs with West Brom

The 34 year old signed with West Brom on July 4th after agreeing to return to the Premier League on a one year deal that included an option for a further year in the club’s favor.

Anelka arrived at The Hawthorns a free agent after leaving Italian champions Juventus at the end of last season where he completed a five month contract with the Bianconeri.

Upon signing with West Brom, the French international was welcomed with open arms by Baggies boss, Steve Clarke, who called Anelka “a great boost for everyone at the club.”

Steve Clarke calls Anelka an “engaging character” and a “favorite”

A week ago, Clarke spoke at length of how he expected Anelka to shed his “Le Sulk” tag.

“There is no downside with Nicolas,” said Clarke. “I find him a very engaging character and good person. He has been great in the group here. He has come in here and is already a favorite. He is a good person.

“He wanted to come back to England to play. He felt he still had enough left in his body to produce in the Premier League and has still got the hunger to score in the Premier League.”

When questioned about Anelka’s hunger and desire, to continue playing professional football as a 34 year old, Clarke was adamant. “He is up for it. If he wasn’t up for it, he would have chosen to go somewhere else for an easier life and still pick up decent money. Everyone keeps knocking on about his age, but he is the fittest 34-year-old I have seen. He is a fabulous athlete.”

The Baggies boss started Anelka alongside striker Shane Long in West Brom’s 1-0 loss to Southampton last weekend. The match didn’t turn out according to plan for Anelka, who endured a frustrating debut and was substituted seven minutes from time.

Anelka’s aspirations to become an actor following retirement

Anelka has previously mentioned his desire to become an actor following his retirement from football. In 2002 he played to role of a football named Nicolas in the film Le Boulet.

Following that role, Anelka discussed his ambition to work in the film industry. “I have a friend who’s a producer, who makes lots of films,” Anelka said. “He recently did Astérix. So it’s already agreed that I’m going to do other films. It helps to know actors and producers. It’s different to football and it’s something I enjoy very much because there’s no ball. I like pretending to be somebody else, it’s fun.”

Anelka’s footballing career has been an interesting one, to say the least. Before West Brom the Frenchman played with Juventus for five months after spending one year at Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua where he reportedly earned an annual salary of $16 million (€12m).

Before his stint in Asia, Anelka spent time with five other Premier League clubs, Arsenal (1997-99), Liverpool (2001-02, loan), Manchester City (2002-05), Bolton Wanderers (2006-08) and Chelsea (2008-12). During his 17 year career Anelka also featured for powerhouses Paris Saint-Germain (1996-97), Real Madrid (1999-00) and Fenerbahce (2005-06).

We will continue to update this story as reports continue to come through.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

Guradiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” as a club

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City reacts as Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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In the past, when faced with adversity in the UEFA Champions League, Manchester City could do little more than wilt and crumble as their European dreams when up in smoke year after year, typically in embarrassing and/or heartbreaking fashion.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

On Tuesday, when faced with 2-1 and 3-2 deficits late into the second half of their round-of-16 first leg against Monaco, deja vu was quickly setting in for anyone who’s followed Man City’s rise from middling afterthought to mega-rich conglomerate with aspirations of world domination. Then, something strange (based on years of recent history) happened: Sergio Aguero fired City back to level at 2-2 in the 58th minute. Sure, more shocking defending saw the deficit restored three minutes later, but again, Aguero dissented.

For this reason, and perhaps this reason alone considering the putrid defensively display over the course of 90 minutes, first-year City manager Pep Guardiola should be heartened by Tuesday’s events at the Etihad Stadium. In his mind, it was a massive step forward in the club’s psyche — quotes from the BBC:

“I am so happy for the result, we are still alive. These kind of things help this club to achieve another step. We attacked in small spaces. That’s why they wanted me to come here. Everybody has to be congratulated.

“We are going to fly to Monaco to score as many goals as possible. If we don’t score in Monaco we will be eliminated.”

UCL: Aguero, Falcao bag braces as Man City edge Monaco, 5-3

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City (C) celebrates with John Stones (L) and Leroy Sane of Manchester City (R) as he scores their third goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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  • Sterling gives Man City an early lead
  • Falcao hits back with a brace
  • Aguero’s brace breathes life back into City

Radamel Falcao and Sergio Aguero bagged dueling braces, while the defenders and/or goalkeepers from their respective sides engaged in dueling disasters, resulting in a bonkers UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg for the ages: Manchester City 5, Monaco 3.

Leroy Sane, David Silva and Raheem Sterling combined to put Man City in the lead after 28 minutes (WATCH HERE). Sane danced brilliantly and effortlessly past four defenders before playing Silva to the endline. The cross was simple for Silva, with Sterling arriving into acres of space in the goalmouth.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

That’s as good as the first half would get for City, though, as their annual Champions League meltdown commenced six short minutes thereafter (WATCH HERE). The Nicolas Otamendi-John Stones-Bacary Sanga triangle of deadly defending fell asleep in unison, which allowed Falcao all the time and space in the world to size up and head home his 23rd goal (in 29 games — all competitions) this season.

Eight minutes later, everyone else in sky blue joined the aforementioned trio for nap time. Fabinho, who also whipped in the cross for Falcao’s goal, dropped the most delicate of long balls onto the foot of Kylian Mbappe, and the 18-year-old fired his first-time shot past Willy Caballero without a single defender five yards from him in any direction.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

The second half began just as disastrously for City as the first ended. Otamendi tripped Falcao inside the penalty, and after discussing with his assistant on the endline, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz awarded Monaco a penalty kick — City felt hard done by after Aguero wasn’t awarded a clear-cut penalty in the first half — which Falcao then proceeded to hit weakly into the waiting arms of Caballero. The tide had turned back in City’s favor.

Ageuro fired City back onto level terms just short of the hour mark, with many thanks to the horrendous howler of Danijel Subasic. Aguero’s effort on goal was tame, and right at the Croatian international, but the ball went right through his hands and found the back of the net to make it 2-2, a scoreline which lasted all of three minutes.

Stones tried his very best Otamendi impression, which looked like halfhearted defending as Falcao left him for dead and chipped Caballero in the 61 minute. The renaissance of Falcao will almost certainly result in a summer full of transfer stories linking him with a move back to the Premier League.

Aguero brought City back to level terms again in the 71st minute, unleashing a stunning volley from David Silva’s corner kick. Stones tapped home at the back post six minutes later to put City 4-3 ahead, and Sane completed the epic comeback with an empty-net finish in the 82nd minute.

In the end, City still have plenty of work to do in the second leg, having conceded not one, not two, but three away goals. One thing is a near certainty: no extra time shall be needed.

UCL: Atletico Madrid blitz Bayer for 4 away goals, win 1st leg 4-2

Atletico's Antoine Griezmann, front, is congratulated by his teammate Saul Niguez after scoring their side's second goal during the Champions League round of 16 first leg soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid in Leverkusen, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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  • Four away goals for Atleti
  • Niguez, Griezmann, Gamerio, Torres on the scoresheet
  • Bellarabi, Savic (OG) give Bayer a lifeline

If you spent your Tuesday glued to Manchester City’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, you may now direct your attention to the day’s other first-leg festival of goals: Bayer Leverkusen 2, Atletico Madrid 4.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Saul Niguez opened the scoring with a stunning curler after 17 minutes (WATCH HERE), and Antoine Griezmann doubled Los Rojiblancos‘ advantage eight minutes later to put Diego Simeone’s side in a commanding position with two early away goals.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

Karim Bellarabi pulled one back for Bayer just three minutes into the second half, but Kevin Gamerio converted from the penalty spot to restore Atleti’s two-goal lead just before the hour mark. Stefan Savic gave one back to Bayer in the form of an owl goal in the 68th minute, before Fernando Torres brought the visitors’ away-goals haul to four in the 86th minute.