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Lyon goalkeeper makes a blunder – before match even starts

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PARIS (AP) Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes made a blunder even before the match against his club’s biggest rival.

Lyon travels to play Saint-Etienne at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday in a stadium nicknamed “Le Chaudron” (The Cauldron) because of the intense, hostile atmosphere generated by passionate fans priding themselves on their industrial roots.

But even without kicking a ball, Lopes is already a marked man and should brace himself for a vitriolic reception.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea-Arsenal ]

On Tuesday, Lopes was playing in a French Cup game at Marseille. For matches in that competition, players don’t have their names on the back of jerseys, only their number. Printed inside the number is the name of every team to have won the French Cup. Lopes put a clearly visible black line through Saint-Etienne’s name, prompting a furious reaction on social media.

While not one of the league’s tallest goalkeepers, Lopes is regarded as one of the bravest and is fearless off his line and commanding on corners. But he was foolhardy this time.

“I didn’t think this would reach such proportions,” Lopes told Lyon newspaper Le Progres. “I heard and read things that left me dumbfounded.”

However, the Portugal international did apologize.

“The rivalry between Lyon and Saint-Etienne is out of the ordinary and the only ones who can really understand this are the fans of both clubs,” Lopes told Le Progres. “If I upset or denigrated Saint-Etienne and its directors, then I’m really sorry. It wasn’t my intention.”

[ MORE: Allardyce faces Sunderland ]

Saint-Etienne and Lyon are separated by only 60 kilometers (37 miles) and their rivalry is one of the fiercest in French soccer.

Saint-Etienne, nicknamed “Les Verts” (The Greens), won a record 10 league titles and reached the European Cup final in 1976, losing to Bayern Munich. Les Verts were loved by neutrals – even outside of France – because of the attacking game they played. France playmaker Michel Platini scored 82 goals for the team from 1979-82 before a spectacular career with Juventus.

Following Platini’s departure – and in the aftermath of a financial scandal – Saint-Etienne fell into mediocrity.

Lyon started climbing up in the late 1990s and won seven straight titles from 2002-08 with homegrown players such as striker Karim Benzema, who now plays for Real Madrid. Lyon has been runner-up to Paris Saint-Germain the last two years, while Saint-Etienne has been sixth and fifth.

There is a lot at stake Sunday, where a Saint-Etienne win would move it within one point of fourth-place Lyon in the hunt for a Europa League spot. The build-up has been overshadowed by hectic events off the field – and not just by Lopes.

Earlier this week, Saint-Etienne fans forced winger Anthony Mounier to leave the club, just four days after arriving on loan from Italian side Bologna.

[ MORE: What to watch in PL this weekend ]

The Frenchman had made offensive comments about Saint-Etienne when playing for Nice a few years ago. Mounier, who came through Lyon’s ranks, had scored twice in a match for Nice and celebrated in a video with a profanity-laced tirade about Saint-Etienne.

Some notable players have worn both the white jersey of Lyon and Saint-Etienne’s green. They include former France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, striker Bernard Lacombe and Aime Jacquet – France’s World Cup-winning coach in 1998.

Klopp, Mourinho reaction to Man City ban: “A disgraceful decision”

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Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho have reacted to the news that Manchester City won their appeal against a two-year UEFA ban.

[ MORE: What now for Man City, PL? ]

It is safe to say both Klopp and Mourinho are happy for Manchester City but are concerned about the ruling and the future of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules.

Manchester City saw their ban overturned on Monday as their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful. UEFA had claimed that Man City’s hierarchy broke FFP rules between 2012-16 but CAS ruled that the punishment dished out by European soccer’s governing body was too severe and a $34 million fine was reduced to $11.3 million.

That means Pep Guardiola’s men can play in the Champions League next season and Guardiola believes Manchester City should get an apology after they were presumed guilty and had their name dragged through the mud.

Jurgen Klopp had this to say about Man City’s ban being overturned and although he’s happy for Guardiola and his team, overall he believes this decision was a bad one.

“From a personal point of view, I’m happy Manchester City can play in next season’s Champions League, because if they have 12 games less, I don’t see any chance for any other teams in the Premier League,” Klopp said. “I don’t wish anything bad on anyone but I don’t think it was a good day for football. Financial Fair Play (FFP) is a good idea and it was there to protect teams and the competition, so that nobody overspends and clubs have to make sure the money they want to spend is from the right sources. I come from Germany, where it’s a different club-based system and it’s not an owner system, so as long as they stick to that system, you will never have those problems. It is clear where you get the money from.”

Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho called the decision ‘disgraceful’ and seemed confused as to why Man City are still in the Champions League, even though they were fined by UEFA.

“It’s a disgraceful decision because if City are not guilty of it then you are not punished with 10 million (euros),” Mourinho said. “If you’re not guilty you shouldn’t have a fine. If they are guilty the decision is also a disgrace and you should be banned from the competition. I don’t know if Manchester City are guilty or not but either way it’s a disgraceful decision.”

Mourinho and Klopp are both strong on this subject and most of the soccer world has a strong opinion on this ruling, as the future of FFP will shape how things go.

FFP, like Klopp said, has brought financial stability to many clubs and leagues and it is rare clubs are now going out of business. Mourinho also wants a clearer, better system for UEFA to sanction teams.

They are both correct and both seem happy that Guardiola and Man City will be able to play in the Champions League next season. They are also both calling what many are calling for and that’s big changes and much-needed updates to the way FFP works.

Guardiola: Man City should get apology

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Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City should get an apology after they won their appeal against a two-year UEFA ban.

[ MORE: What now for Man City, PL? ]

Manchester City saw their ban overturned on Monday as their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful. UEFA had claimed that Man City’s hierarchy broke Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules between 2012-16 but CAS ruled that the punishment dished out by European soccer’s governing body was too severe and a $34 million fine was reduced to $11.3 million.

That means Guardiola’s men can play in the Champions League next season and speaking ahead of their clash against Bournemouth on Wednesday (start time, 1pm ET for FREE via Peacock), Guardiola came out all guns blazing.

“We were damaged. Our prestige and reputation was damaged,” Guardiola said.

He was then asked about comments from Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho who called the whole situation ‘disgraceful’ when it came to the way Man City were treated.

“We should be apologized [to],” Mourinho said. “If we did something wrong, we will accept absolutely the decisions. We have the right to defend ourselves when we believe what we have done is right. Today is a good day for football. If we broke the rules we would have been banned. The club believed what they have done is right and three judges have said we have done it properly. The people who said we were cheating and lying, presumption of innocence was not there.”

Guardiola is not holding back here. From the get-go both he, the club and their legal representatives have vowed to clear their name and they’ve done it.

This is a huge victory for Manchester City on multiple levels.Not least because they faced potentially losing big name players and maybe even Guardiola had they been banned from the Champions League for two seasons, not to mention a new financial reality as their spending would have been limited due to the loss of income from Champions League action.

Man City are one of the favorites to win the Champions League this season and when it restarts in August, Guardiola and his players will be fired up to prove all those who believed they were guilty, were wrong.

Real Madrid on brink of La Liga title; record ninth-straight win

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid is on the verge of reclaiming the Spanish league title, after its ninth straight win following the pandemic break.

Madrid defeated Granada 2-1 on Monday to move within two points of winning the La Liga title.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Ferland Mendy and Karim Benzema scored first-half goals to keep Madrid four points ahead of second-placed Barcelona with two rounds to go.

Madrid can clinch its first title since 2017 on Thursday with a win at Villarreal, or if Barcelona loses points when it hosts Osasuna. Two draws in the final two rounds will also be enough to secure Madrid a record 34th league trophy.

“We are a step closer but we can’t relax, we haven’t won anything yet,” Madrid captain Sergio Ramos said. “There are still points to be won. We depend on ourselves and we have a game at home coming up, hopefully we can win it and celebrate the league title.”

Madrid was in control early in Granada and Mendy’s first goal since joining the Spanish club this season came from a beautiful angled shot into the top corner after getting past a defender inside the area in the 10th minute.

Benzema added to the lead six minutes later by scoring his 19th league goal with a right-footed strike into the far corner.

Granada, which was 10th in the standings, got on the board with a goal by Darwin Machis in the 50th and pressured to the end.

The hosts came closest to the equalizer with about five minutes left, when Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois had to make a difficult save and Ramos cleared a shot at the goal line.

Madrid had not conceded a goal in its last five league matches.

Sevilla secured the final Champions League spot after Villarreal lost to Real Sociedad 2-1.

The loss left Villarreal nine points behind fourth-placed Sevilla with two rounds to go. Sevilla beat Mallorca 2-0 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have the other berths in the Champions League.

Sevilla last featured in the Champions League in 2018 when it was eliminated by Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals. It played in the Europa League in 2018-19 and this season, where it will face Roma in the round of 16.

Villarreal needed a win to keep alive its hopes of making it to the Champions League. It has won six of its nine matches following the pandemic break, but the home setback against Sociedad ended its chances of qualifying. It remains in good position to grab a Europa League spot, though, as it kept fifth place.

Sociedad also stayed in contention for the Europa League with its third win since the break, moving to seventh place. Willian Jose scored in the 61st minute and Diego Llorente in the 75th, while the hosts pulled closer through Santi Cazorla in the 85th.

Getafe stayed in sixth place after drawing at relegation-threatened Alaves 0-0.

A late goal disallowed by video review kept Getafe from earning its second win since the league resumed after the pandemic stoppage.

Alaves has also won only once since the break and is winless in seven straight league matches. It is four points above the relegation zone.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Man United: ‘We will put it right’ and not feeling pressure in top 4 race

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Manchester United insist they will put their draw against Southampton right and the reaction from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players was clear that they aren’t feeling the pressure of the top four race.

Leading 2-1 in the 96th minute at home against Southampton, they conceded a late equalizer from a corner and Solskjaer looked understandably frustrated with two points dropped.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Within a few seconds they went from moving up to third with three games to now sitting in fifth, behind both Leicester City and Chelsea in the top four race.

Speaking to reporters via Zoom after the game, Solskjaer was asked if he believes in the mentality of his players to put things right.

“I have to say the mentality of the boys has been absolutely brilliant. We’ve had a few setbacks and this is another challenge for us. I’m very confident in the mentality of them,” Solskjaer said. “Very disappointed, of course, but you have to take the disappointments as well as the positives when you win games. Disappointment because one of the last kicks of the ball you concede a goal and you lose two points, that’s just part of football. We’ve learned a hard lesson today, hopefully. We will make it right and put it right. The boys, I trust them in that respect.”

[ MORE: Maguire reacts to draw ]

Solskjaer was then asked if the pressure of the situation, watching Chelsea and Leicester both get hammered at the weekend and giving them the chance to jump up to third, played on the mind of his players.

“Absolutely not,” was Solskjaer’s reaction. “I don’t think any of our players have been thinking what have Chelsea done this weekend. Not at all. It is just the way the games go. We all play against the same teams and we all have 38 games to go through. It will even itself out during a long season and you will deserve the position you get in the end.”

That position for Manchester United will still probably be in the top four but they have made it harder for themselves now.

From the start they looked sluggish against Saints, with Paul Pogba giving the ball away on the first goal, then they sat back and looked tired in the second half.

Although Solskjaer said tiredness wasn’t an issue, it looked like midtable Southampton were chasing third place and not Manchester United. Maybe a busy few weeks caught up with United but they now have an FA Cup semifinal and huge games against Crystal Palace, West Ham and Leicester City to finish the season.

Going forward they looked slick and they should have just about enough in the tank to finish in the top four. However, this will be tight and could go to the final game of the season at Leicester.