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Barcelona to join strike over Catalonia’s independence vote

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Barcelona is joining a strike to protest against the Spanish government’s actions in Catalonia’s independence vote. None of its professional teams will practice on Tuesday.

Barcelona said on Monday its youth teams also won’t train, and the club headquarters will be closed as a reaction to government attempts to stop the referendum. Officials said more than 890 civilians and some 430 members of the police force were injured.

[ MORE: Barcelona beat Las Palmas in empty Camp Nou ]

Girona also suspended practice on Tuesday, and Espanyol, the other Catalan club in the Spanish league, will have its players undergo physical activities behind closed doors at its training camp.

Barcelona tried to postpone its home match on Sunday during the referendum but the league denied its request, so it closed Camp Nou to spectators to send a protest message and avoid losing points and being sanctioned. It beat Las Palmas 3-0.

Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said the decision to play behind closed doors was one of the hardest he had to make at the club. He consulted club officials, coaches and players.

“We knew that an empty Camp Nou would send a powerful message,” he said in a news conference on Monday. “Everybody would be asking about what was happening in Catalonia. The game was broadcast around the world. It was an extraordinary measure for an extraordinary moment.”

Many club members didn’t want the team to play at all on Sunday, but then it would forfeit the three points from the match and risk losing more points from a sanction.

Bartomeu said an empty stadium was the best way to show the club was not pleased with the incidents in Catalonia.

“The news of the suspension would last only one minute,” Bartomeu said. “In the end, what we did lasted for 90 minutes.

“This is why Barcelona is more than a club.”

Bartomeu avoided talking about Barcelona’s future in the Spanish league if Catalonia declares independence, saying that if that happens the board of directors would discuss the situation.

The Spanish league has already said it will not be easy to make a deal to have the club stay in the league if a unilateral declaration of independence is made by Catalonia.

The majority of voters called for the region’s independence, but Spain doesn’t recognize the referendum as legit.

One of the main symbols of Catalonia, Barcelona has openly backed the region’s rights to hold the referendum.

Defender Gerard Pique, one of the most outspoken players defending the Catalans, was in tears after the game as he talked about confrontations between voters and police. Authorities used batons and fired rubber bullets to clear protesting voters across the northeastern region.

Barcelona’s employees on Monday held a 15-minute strike to condemn the violence used by authorities.

Espanyol said it will respect its employees’ decision on whether to strike, while Girona said the entire club will be closed.

“The club condemns the violent and repressive actions carried out Sunday in Catalonia and shows its support and solidarity with the country’s citizens and institutions,” Girona said in a statement.

Barcelona’s main squad is without some of its top players because they have joined their national teams in the international break.

 

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”