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Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Report: Pep Guardiola affirms commitment to Man City

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According to a report by Sky Sports journalist Kaveh Solhekol, Pep Guardiola has met with the Man City players as a squad and affirmed his commitment to the club despite future uncertainty thanks to Financial Fair Play sanctions handed down by UEFA on Saturday.

For FFP violations, the club was banned from the Champions League for two years and handed a hefty fine, but the punishments will not be certain until after Man City’s appeal of the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. There are even still questions about whether the club’s status in Premier League play could be affected.

[ MORE: Man City punished | Key takeaways, questions ]

Plenty of clouds hover over Man City’s future, and one of them is the standing of manager Pep Guardiola who could theoretically decide to leave if the club’s Champions League ban remains intact after appeal. Guardiola’s contract expires in the summer of 2021, leaving room for movement.

The Spaniard reportedly met with players and told them, “Whatever league we are in, I will still be here. Even if they put us in League Two, I will still be here. This is a time for sticking together.” Club CEO Ferran Soriano went one step further, assuring this would all blow over and that the appeal will be successful. “Trust me like I trust you, this will be dropped,” Soriano reportedly said.

To follow Solhekol’s report, BBC journalist Simon Stone also reported that Guardiola is telling his close confidants that he will remain committed to the club.

The aim is likely to convince players to stick with the club despite any future sanctions, but the message could still be received as a mixed message. At 49 years old, Guardiola is already one of the world’s most heralded managers, and two years leading a cash-infused club like Man City outside Europe’s greatest competition could be easy to swallow. For top players who typically see a solid career last 10-14 years, two prime seasons outside of Champions League play could be viewed as an enormous missed opportunity.

[ MORE: Mikel Arteta talks Man City ban ]

Players like Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, and Fernandinho will be entering the last years of their Manchester City contracts next season. Meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, and John Stones all have contracts that expire no later than the summer of 2023 and could look to continue for a way out to maintain Champions League experience through the primes of their careers.

UCL Tuesday preview: Liverpool visits Atletico, Dortmund hosts PSG

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After what feels like AGES, the Champions League is back, and the opening pair of first-leg fixtures could be potential classics.

Knockout stage play begins on Tuesday in the Round of 16 as reigning title-winners Liverpool visit Atletico Madrid while Borussia Dortmund hosts Paris Saint-Germain, as both matchups are dripping with possible fireworks.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

For both Liverpool and Atletico Madrid, the Champions League games are the most important remaining fixtures left on the schedule, but for very different reasons. The Reds are 25 points clear atop the Premier League table, and while the players will never admit it, the top flight is all but won and the true focus now shifts to defending its European crown. For Atleti who sit 13 points behind Barcelona in the La Liga table, are out of the Copa del Rey, and continue to struggle creating chances, the Champions League appears to be Diego Simeone’s last stand in what is otherwise a lost season.

To make matters worse for the Mattress Makers, there are reports that teenage sensation Joao Felix will be unavailable for the match due to illness, leaving the hosts already a step behind at the Wanda Metripolitano. The 20-year-old has been underwhelming in his first season after becoming the Atletico Madrid record signing at $147 million, but the heavy attacking weight on his shoulders hasn’t helped and his presence will nonetheless still be sorely missed.

Atletico has scored just 25 league goals this season, good for joint-12th in the league, on an expected goals tally of around 37. In comparison, Liverpool has blitzed the Premier League with 61 goals on an xG of 59.3. Atletico’s defense has been its usual stellar self, just 17 goals all year long in La Liga play, but they have made a habit of conceding goals at the worst possible times and have struggled to pick up the slack of a slumping attack.

[ MORE: Former PSG attacker Weah injured again ]

Meanwhile, Paris Saint-Germain will bring its fully potent attack to Germany as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are in the squad to face Dortmund and expected to play. The pair had missed the weekend draw with Amiens in Ligue 1 play to get them ready for the Champions League, which PSG has publicly targeted for years as its coveted competition. Neymar’s inclusion is specifically of note for PSG as he had missed the last three league matches with a bruised rib.

The French side will need all its available firepower to counter a Dortmund attack that is white hot, with Jadon Sancho in electric form. Dating back to the return from the November international break, Sancho has scored in 11 of the club’s 14 games across all competitions. All three of the games Sancho did not score in, the club lost – two in Bundesliga play to Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen and one against Werder Bremen in the DFB-Pokal. However, Dortmund has also struggled mightily at the back, resulting in near-weekly shootouts to stay alive in the Bundesliga title race. Since a mid-December 3-3 draw with RB Leipzig, Dortmund has conceded three or more goals four times across all competitions.

Even PSG has been questionable at the back of late, failing to keep a clean sheet in three straight Ligue 1 matches including the draw with Amiens this weekend that required PSG to come from a 3-0 deficit. With all that attacking firepower and defensive frailties, the game at Westfalenstadion could be a barnburner.

Round of 16 Champions League schedule:

2/17 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Atletico Madrid v. Liverpool
Borussia Dortmund v. Paris Saint-Germain

2/18 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Atalanta v. Valencia
Tottenham Hotspur v. RB Leipzig

2/25 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Chelsea v. Bayern Munich
Napoli v. Barcelona

2/26 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Lyon v. Juventus
Real Madrid v. Manchester City

Report: Joao Felix unavailable against Liverpool

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Atletico Madrid is facing a defining moment of its 2019/20 season as Liverpool visits the Wanda Metripolitano on Tuesday in Champions League Round of 16 action. In such an important match, the Spanish side may be without one of its most creative attacker.

According to a report by Goal.com, Joao Felix will not be available as he has been struck down by tonsillitis, missing training on Monday. Felix has not played since picking up a muscle problem on January 26, and while he has mostly recovered from that injury, his unavailability for training means he is not able to fully prove fit to play, so between that and the illness itself, he has been ruled out.

The 20-year-old moved to Atletico Madrid this summer for a whopping $147 million, and while fans have had high hopes for the Portuguese youngster, he has flopped in his first season in Spain. Still, despite his struggles to carry the entire Atleti attack on his shoulders, Felix remains one of the club’s best attackers playing alongside true striker Alvaro Morata, and his presence will be missed in what is already an anemic attack.

Atleti is 13 points back of leaders Barcelona, sitting fourth in the La Liga table. The side is also out of the Copa del Rey, shocked in late January by third-tier side Cultural Leonesa. The Champions League is Diego Simeone’s last chance to salvage something positive from an otherwise struggle-filled season.

Atleti is also without midfielder Hector Herrera who is also suffering from an illness, while Kieran Trippier continues to recover from a groin injury.

Lacazette thanks Arteta, Arsenal teammates for support

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Alexandre Lacazette‘s 95th minute goal to finish off a 4-0 victory over Newcastle may seem meaningless, but to him it meant the world.

The 28-year-old Frenchman snapped a 10-match goalless streak across all competitions when he found the back of the net for the first time since a Champions League match on December 12. In total, Lacazette had been on the field for nearly 470 minutes without scoring before his goal in the final seconds against Newcastle.

“It has been really hard and complicated,” Lacazette said of his goal drought. “Sometimes I had some games with no chances, sometimes I missed or the goalkeeper saved it. Of course for a striker it is always hard to not score, but it happens in football. Hopefully it is the last time for me.”

However, Lacazette says both new manager Mikel Arteta and his teammates were supportive during the time he struggled to find the back of the net.

“He [Arteta] talked with me to give me confidence. I am really, really happy because I waited for this moment for a long time.  I am touched as well because of the way all my team-mates reacted when I scored that goal.  It means a lot to me and a lot for the spirit we have in the team. This is good.”

Arteta kept faith in Lacazette for much of his goal drought, starting in seven straight Premier League matches between late December and early February, but he was dropped for the Newcastle game for Eddie Nketiah, only coming on for the final five minutes when he found his moment. Lacazette confirmed that Arteta spoke to him about the match decision, saying “he explained it well” before pausing to say he cannot go into more details about the conversation.

Arsenal is on a six-game unbeaten streak in league play and eight overall, without losing since a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates on December 29.