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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.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.