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China plans for 50,000 soccer academies by 2025

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BEIJING (AP) China plans to have 50,000 football academies by 2025 as part of an ambitious blueprint to grow into a soccer superpower.

The announcement, made by China’s football association Vice President Wang Dengfeng, more than doubles the earlier target of 20,000 academies by 2020.

Wang was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying that each school would be able to train 1,000 young players on average, fulfilling the goal laid out in a plan announced last April of having 50 million competent players.

“This is a solid way to select football talent for our future reserves. Improving Chinese football is no longer just a dream,” Wang was quoted as saying on the website of the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s men have only qualified for one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

To that end, China last year signed Brazil’s World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to take over the national men’s team. The government has also ordered the creation of 70,000 football fields to fill gaps in its youth program.

Teams in China’s professional leagues, meanwhile, have recruited international stars such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez on highly paid contracts, raising concerns that they are neglecting home-grown talent.

In response, China’s football association last month said it plans a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs. It also reduced the number of foreigners who can play per club at any given time from four to three and required that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

How would Timo Werner fit on Liverpool?

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It sure feels like Liverpool and Timo Werner are on a collision course.

According to The Athletic on Wednesday, Liverpool’s optimal time for submitting a bid will likely be mid-March, a sweet spot when they have previously done deals for the likes of Alisson and Fabinho. The Reds have until an unspecified day in April when Werner’s contract states his $63.4 million release clause expires in order to give RB Leipzig time to garner a replacement before the next season.

The report states that despite contact from Barcelona and Manchester United, Werner is waiting to hear from Liverpool before making a decision. While the report does not state why Werner is waiting for the Reds, the move is seemingly indicative of a preference, great news for Reds fans.

[ MORE: Latest PL injury news ]

The biggest question mark about the whole deal is where Werner fits in to Liverpool’s squad. The Reds have asphyxiated the Premier League this season in large part thanks to their attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Roberto Firmino. Brazilian striker Firmino is the biggest threat to Werner’s game time, and the 28-year-old is a critical and established piece of the Jurgen Klopp machine, less of a goalscorer and more of a facilitator. An NFL scout might call Firmino a game manager.

But those at Liverpool might also say that Werner is a threat to Firmino’s game time. While Liverpool has romped through the English top flight in record fashion, the Reds have not always dominated opponents, rather collecting vast quantities of points with timely goals. Liverpool has won a whopping 13 one-goal games this league season; compare that to Manchester City’s dominating league performance last year where they had just nine one-goal victories all year, including three of them coming in the final four matches of the year. Could they use a more consistent attacking threat?

Werner is just that. With 21 goals through 23 Bundesliga matches this season and another six in 10 matches across all other competitions, Werner is a dangerous presence and a ruthless finisher. Judging by his 18.12 xG – already second in the Bundesliga – Werner is actually finishing at a better rate than Robert Lewandowski who is having a historic campaign. Werner’s +2.88 actual goals to expected goals is second in the Bundesliga only to Jadon Sancho‘s absurd +5.75. Not only does Werner get a lot of chances, he’s finishing them in bunches.

But how would that type of striker change the dynamic of Liverpool? At the moment they play through the flanks with dynamic full-backs and dangerous wingers; Firmino does far more work off the ball than he does on it. How would the Reds change with a goal hawk up front demanding service?

If you ever needed a visualization on how different the two players are, take a look at their heat maps below. Firmino’s touches from the 3-1 victory over Manchester City are first, contrasted with Werner’s performance against Tottenham in the Champions League where he scored the game’s only goal.

Timo Werner is an outright striker, with the ability to drift out wide and create almost as much as he scores. Firmino is a workhorse, putting in a defensive shift and cropping up everywhere as Liverpool presses opponents to death. It’s almost impossible to tell from Firmino’s heat map which direction Liverpool is attacking – it’s actually left-to-right.

Still, as The Athletic report points out, Firmino is 28 years old and coupled with the 27-year-old Salah and Mane, Werner’s production at 24 is nearly impossible to pass up. His versatile nature too could prove useful, and while he often plays with a striker ahead of him in Patrik Schick, it seems Werner could translate relatively well into a ball-playing striker who could overlap with both his wingers and full-backs.

And yet this move would not be about the future. With Werner scoring in bunches, it would be hard to keep him off the field. In fact, he may want assurances of his involvement at Liverpool prior to any agreement of a move. Putting both Firmino and Werner on the field together would involve a relatively complicated formational shift that Klopp would need to perfect and would not be something the team could just rotate in and out of week to week.

Liverpool spent heavily two summers ago, but with the lack of heavy purchases this season plus the recent successes both domestic and abroad, it’s likely the Reds will have the money. And fit or not, Werner might be too delicious for Jurgen Klopp to pass up.

Norwich City shock struggling Leicester at Carrow Road

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Leicester City clearly missed the injured Jamie Vardy, pummeling the Canaries time and again with shots but none had the killer instinct of the absent striker. That was critical as the Foxes had no response once Jamal Lewis put Norwich City in front as the Canaries worked a crucial 1-0 victory at Carrow Road.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The game was goalless until the 71st minute when Lewis received a cross from Max Aarons that skittered through the area to the opposite side where the left-back ripped an absolute rocket that tucked inside the right post.

Vardy and his 17 goals were missing through a calf problem that may have cost the Foxes points on the road. With Leicester City looking to push Manchester City for second in the Premier League table, this loss saw them slog seven points back of the Citizens. Norwich City, meanwhile, will relish the victory as they draw just three back of the other two relegation-threatened sides.

The closest Leicester City came to a goal was a cancelled strike from Kelechi Iheanacho – Vardy’s replacement – who has a goal cancelled by VAR on a dicey handball call. It was a spotty performance at best for the Foxes who created few solid chances and


Three things we learned

1. How is Norwich City bottom of the table?

Seriously, how? Watching the first half, this Canaries squad is capable of dangerous forward play and solid defending that can only be undone by quality attacking moves. It’s true that as the first half waned on, they conceded heavy possession to the Foxes, but the hosts still threatened Leicester City multiple times and looked up for the match at Carrow Road. They are clearly missing a consistency indicative of an established Premier League side, but they look far from the worst team in the top flight. In fact, even when the game was goalless, Kasper Schmeichel was the busier of the two goalkeepers, with Tim Krul not truly threatened.

The goal was Norwich City’s first goal from open play in nearly 11 hours, an unbelievable total if you only watched this 90 minutes. If the Canaries are going to climb the mountain and stay up, they will need to channel this performance through the rest of the season.

2. Kelechi Iheanachi is no Jamie Vardy

Leicester City ripped off 12 shots in the first half, but only managed three on target. Once halftime had come and gone, Leicester City had just four more shots in the tank, with 16 total but just four on target and none with a mark of over 0.21 xG.

Vardy’s exquisite finishing ability was sorely missed as the Foxes created plenty of chances but couldn’t finish many dangerously. The 23-year-old Nigerian was hardly involved in the game, seeing a goal ruled out but also contributing little else. With Vardy at 33 years of age, the Foxes clearly need a Plan B should he end up missing any more time in the near future or down the road, because they had nothing to aim at with the talisman sidelined.

3. Leicester City is in a rut

Iheanacho was not the only on who struggled against the Premier League’s bottom side. James Maddison had very few touches in the attacking third, creating four chances but two of them came off corners and two were miles from the net. Dennis Praet and Ricardo Pereira were probably the Foxes’ most creative player but even they popped up few and far between, producing just 1.44 xG on a whopping 19 shots. Jonny Evans was constantly screaming at his fellow defenders for their loss of shape. The Foxes challenged for Man City’s second position lasted a few weeks, but they have fallen off the table and now just hope to solidify third before they fall any further in what could be a precarious home stretch.

Man of the Match: Ben Godfrey


The two teams were both bright in an entertaining start with Norwich threatening down the right on the overlap and Leicester City pressing hard. Teemu Pukki had an opportunity from the right edge on 22 minutes but Caglar Soyuncu made an acrobatic last-gasp block. That started a lengthy spell of pressure from the Canaries, but the hosts couldn’t cash in.

Leicester City’s best chance of the first half-hour came on 25 minutes as Dennis Praet found himself in a dangerous area, but he could only clip Ricardo Pereira’s delivery off the outside of the right post. Ayoze Perez also put a shot into a precarious position moments later which cannoned dangerously off the leg of Norwich City defender Grant Hanley, but went wide instead of into the gaping net.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Foxes began to assert their dominance past the half-hour mark and Perez found Kelechi Iheanacho right in front of net, but he disappointingly fired over.

Minutes into the second half Iheanacho found the ball in the back of the net but saw it ruled out by VAR thanks to a handball on the buildup. That was Leicester City’s biggest moment as they were toothless up front otherwise. Norwich City capitalized with 19 minutes to go as Lewis pounced on a Max Aarons delivery clean across the box and delivered a cannon blast into the back of the net. Norwich nearly had a second a few minutes from full time but Kasper Schmeichel came up to save a quality effort from substitute Josip Drmic.

Eintracht Frankfurt dumps RB Salzburg from Europa League

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Andre Silva struck twice as Eintracht Frankfurt played to a 2-2 draw at Red Bull Salzburg to become the final team with a berth in the Europa League quarterfinals on a 6-3 aggregate scoreline.

The match had been originally scheduled for yesterday alongside the rest of the Europa League Round of 16 slate but storms in the area forced its postponement.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

Goals for Salzburg’s Andreas Ulmer and Jerome Onguene were not enough to offset the 4-1 first-leg loss plus another two conceded at home. Silva’s second goal was the pick of the lot, finding the top corner from outside the top of the box with a brilliant looping effort.

Frankfurt’s advancement will be a boost for them domestically where they have lost two straight in Bundesliga play but recently dumped RB Leipzig from DFB-Pokal play. USMNT veteran Timmy Chandler came off the bench for the final two minutes.

On the flip side, the match came at a bad time for RB Salzburg, who has only won one of its last five league games in Austria, seeing LASK take over the top spot in the table. That poor form worked its way to European play as well, unable to give themselves a chance at the already improbable comeback. They can take positives from the goals scored up front as Ulmer’s was an absolute rocket from just inside the top of the box and Onguene bagged a header off a corner.

Watch Live: Norwich v. Leicester

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Norwich City host Leicester City on Friday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Canaries and Foxes in very different positions heading into this clash at Carrow Road.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Daniel Farke’s Norwich are scrapping for their lives and although they’ve played some wonderful attacking soccer this season with Teemu Pukki, Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell all starring, they sit bottom of the Premier League table with 11 games to go. The Canaries badly need a win against Leicester if they’re going to avoid relegation back to the Championship at the first attempt. They currently sit seven points from safety.

As for Leicester, their poor form in 2020 has continued but they remain in third place in the Premier League and Brendan Rodgers‘ side are nine points ahead of fifth place. Jamie Vardy‘s goals have dried up as he hasn’t scored in his last nine appearances and only once in his last 12, which has meant a big downturn in results.

Norwich v Leicester should be a real treat on a windy Friday evening in Norfolk as both teams have plenty to play for and both managers urge their teams to play fluid, attacking soccer.

In team news Norwich bring in Buendia for Rupp as the Argentine playmaker is key in their battle against relegation.

Leicester are without Jamie Vardy who isn’t in the squad due to injury as Kelechi Iheanacho replaces him.


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