Portuguese international Pepe faces battle with muscle injury

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Real Madrid announced today that center-back Pepe has a grade 1 calf strain that he suffered during the draw with Valladolid on Wednesday.

According to reports, the muscle injury has a typical recovery time of 15 days, meaning he could very well miss the rest of the season, including the Champions League final on May 24, depending on how he progresses.

A humorous bit of translation on the English version of the Real Madrid official site says, “Pepe was diagnosed with a grade 1 injury in the soleus muscle of her left leg. The player’s progress will be monitored.”

Hopefully for Real Madrid, “her” left leg recovers in time for some big games down the stretch, with the Los Blancos four points back in the La Liga title race and two to play. Backup center-back Raphael Varane is also struggling with an injury, so the position is in limbo.

It’s also something to monitor for the Portuguese national team, who are hoping Pepe’s injury won’t extend into any preparation for the World Cup.  Portugal, who are in the United States’ group, are also dealing with a slight injury to star forward Cristiano Ronaldo, who limped off after just eight minutes against Valladolid with a hamstring injury.

With the Champions League final looming, those two big injuries aren’t all Real Madrid is faced with. Gareth Bale was also ruled out of the match against Valladolid with a slight knock.  Both Bale and Ronaldo reportedly returned to training yesterday, but it remains to be seen how fit they actually are.

Nagging muscle injuries could certainly affect a player over the coming months, especially if he (or she?) looks to return too early and aggravates the problem. That’s certainly possible at this point in the season when teams like Real Madrid need all their best players in every games down the stretch.

News on Ronaldo’s injury against Valladolid was that he was seen limping in the days leading up to the match but Carlo Ancelotti decided to play him anyways, and the result was the injury.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images
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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

whufc.com
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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.