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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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.