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Ligue 1: Falcao secures win, preserves Monaco’s 4-point lead

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Radamel Falcao celebrated his return from injury with a sharply taken goal as French league leader Monaco scraped a 1-0 win at Angers on Saturday.

Falcao missed the last four games with a hip injury and lacked fitness. But when his chance came in the 61st minute, courtesy of a clever pass from midfielder Nabil Dirar, he buried it into the right corner for his 25th goal of the season, including 17 in 23 league games.

“Falcao’s a great player,” Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said. “He helped out the team in attack and in defense.”

Falcao spent the past two seasons on loan to Manchester United and Chelsea, where he had a miserable time as he struggled to recover from a serious knee injury, and nearly went on loan again this season.

The club decided to give him another chance, and he has blossomed into a natural leader as captain. His commitment to the club was underlined by the way he jumped into Jardim’s arms at the final whistle.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Monaco 31 23 5 3 88 26 62 13-1-1 10-4-2 74
 Nice 32 20 10 2 52 26 26 12-4-0 8-6-2 70
 Paris SG 30 21 5 4 60 21 39 10-5-0 11-0-4 68
 Lyon 32 17 3 12 65 39 26 11-0-5 6-3-7 54
 Bordeaux 32 13 10 9 46 39 7 8-5-4 5-5-5 49
 Marseille 31 13 8 10 44 38 6 10-4-2 3-4-8 47

Monaco lost the French League Cup final to Paris Saint-Germain 4-1 last weekend and needed this win to maintain its momentum in a hard fought French title race. Monaco is four points clear of Nice and six ahead of defending champion PSG.

This was Monaco’s 51st game of the season and tiredness is beginning to creep in, with coach Leonardo Jardim juggling players ahead of the Champions League quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday.

“We have two days to recover. It’s not easy but we’re playing in every competition,” said Jardim, whose side is also through to the French Cup semifinals.

Mid-table Angers rarely concedes goals at home and gave Monaco a hard time, going close to scoring in the first half and shutting down Monaco’s silky midfield with its relentless harrying.

Monaco improved after the break and midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko blazed over from close range in the 50th.

Then, Dirar broke down the right and showed great awareness to cut the ball back to Falcao, who stabbed the ball home for Monaco’s 133rd goal in all competitions this season – and one of the most valuable.

Angers goalkeeper Alexandre Letellier then made a stunning close-range save to tip over Falcao’s firm downward header with 20 minutes left, moments after making a brilliant double save from striker Valere Germain and winger Thomas Lemar.

Monaco goalie Danijel Subasic threw himself at striker Famara Diedhiou’s feet to make a crucial block in the closing stages as Monaco held on after five minutes of injury time.

“To win this type of game you need mental strength, collective strength, and individual strength,” Jardim said.

Monaco certainly has those qualities, and the pressure is on PSG not to drop points on Sunday against Guingamp, which was the last team to beat PSG, 2-1 at home just before Christmas.

Later Saturday, fourth-place Lyon was at home to 19th-place Lorient.

In other matches, it was: Bordeaux vs. Metz; Caen vs. Montpellier; Dijon vs. Bastia, and Nancy vs. Rennes.

Toulouse hosts Marseille and Saint-Etienne faces Nantes in Sunday’s other games.

Nice kept its title going with a 2-1 win away to Lille on Friday, thanks to two goals from striker Mario Balotelli.

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Long-term absentee Santi Cazorla will leave Arsenal

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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played a match for the Gunners since suffering a gruesome Achilles injury back in October 2016.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

And unfortunately for the Spaniard, Cazorla won’t feature for Arsenal again after six years at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal released a statement on Monday revealing the veteran midfielder won’t return to the club in 2018/19, which isn’t unexpected given the extent of his injury.

In his time with the Gunners, Cazorla made 180 appearances in all competitions for the club, and helped Arsenal win two FA Cups.

Cazorla was also a member of the Spanish national team squads that won back-to-back UEFA EURO competitions in 2008 and 2012.

Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.