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Madrid taking its time with Vinicius Jr despite fans’ plea

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MADRID (AP) Brazilian teenage sensation Vinicius Junior arrived in Spain giving Real Madrid fans hope he could be the future star who would help fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.

Fans were anxious to see if his quick moves and nifty dribbles would give the team the spark that vanished after Ronaldo left, especially since the club made no major signings to try to make up for Ronaldo’s absence.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

But the 18-year-old forward, who many compare to former Brazil and Madrid player Robinho, has not played any minutes with the main squad and this weekend was sent down to play with Madrid’s “B” team in the third division.

He started in the 2-0 win against Las Palmas Atletico on Sunday, and images of him clearing a couple of defenders with a beautiful nutmeg quickly spread online, adding to the frustration of fans who keep wanting to see him tested among the best in the top flight.

Julen Lopetegui’s decision to leave Vinicius Junior sidelined has already put the newly arrived coach in an uncomfortable position, with fans and local media questioning him. The only reason the coach is not hearing more from critics is because Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have been successfully helping the main squad in attack. Benzema scored twice and Bale once in the team’s 4-1 win at Girona on Sunday.

Madrid spent about 45 million euros ($52 million) for the promising Brazilian teenager last year even though he had played mostly with the youth squads of Brazilian club Flamengo. Madrid opted to bring the player after he turned 18 instead of keeping him in Brazil to develop longer.

MODRIC BENCHED AGAIN?

Lopetegui also has been questioned over his handling of Luka Modric, who was voted the World Cup’s best player as Croatia reached the final in Russia.

The talented midfielder was benched for the third straight time this season on Sunday, entering the match as a substitute late in the game. Lopetegui has opted to use Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Marco Asensio in the midfield, players who have greater attacking power.

Modric reported to the squad later than the rest of the players because of the World Cup, and Lopetegui said that has played a part in why he hasn’t started. But the coached noted Sunday that “there are alternatives” for the starting lineup, and “that’s good for the team.”

Many in Spain have linked Modric’s lack of playing time to his reported negotiations with Inter Milan in the offseason.

Lopetegui has also caused controversy by keeping Keylor Navas in goal despite the high-profile signing of Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea.

CHANGED ESPANYOL

Espanyol made a bold move in the offseason to pay the 10-million-euro buyout clause for striker Borja Iglesias.

The 25-year-old Iglesias belonged to Celta Vigo but was on loan with second-division club Zaragoza, which came close to gaining promotion to the top flight thanks in great part to his goals.

The move started to pay off Sunday when Iglesias scored his first goal of the season, helping the hosts earn a 2-0 win over Valencia.

Along with Iglesias, Espanyol also brought new coach Joan Francesc Ferrer, better known as “Rubi,” who has been trying to revamp the team after a disappointing season a year ago.

“We are getting used to a new way of playing and we are happy with it,” Iglesias said. “There are no limits to what this team can achieve.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND

Valencia defender Jose Luis Gaya was blunt about his team’s performance in the 2-0 loss at Espanyol, a result that left the team winless after two rounds.

“Our second-half performance was not worthy of this team. It should come as an alert,” Gaya said. “We can’t convey this image. They trounced us after their goal.”

Valencia entered the season with high hopes after improving a squad that finished fourth in the league a year ago, signing several players in the offseason.

The team had opened with a draw against Atletico Madrid at home.

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

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

Season restart preview: Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton season restart
Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Brighton is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Seagulls when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: If there’s a team whose results don’t show the way they’ve played, it’s Brighton. Graham Potter’s Seagulls have the sixth-best possession percentage in the league, are a tidy seventh in passing, and are mid-table in tackles per game, interceptions per game, and shots per game.

[ MORE: Ranking every Brighton player in 2019-20 ]

The expected goals stats show even less reward for good work, with Brighton scoring 8.35 goals less than expected in open play and 4.38 less from corner kicks.

Despite all these good things, Brighton is two points clear of the drop zone with nine matches to play and has a terribly challenging schedule especially at the Amex Stadium.


Tactical analysis: Graham Potter has put the Seagulls in myriad formations this season, though he’s been utilizing at least four at the back since the calendar turned to 2020. He’s ready to attack but pragmatic given the club’s hopes of staving off the teams below it in the fight for PL survival.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Brighton’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Ryan —–

— Montoya — Webster — Dunk — Burn —

—– Propper —– Mooy —–

— Trossard — Gross — Alzate —

—– Maupay—–

Glenn Murray and Alireza Jahanbakhsh are excellent weapons to have on the bench, and Brighton’s also got a very good center back in reserve in the form of Shame Duffy and an underrated center mid in Dale Stephens who will see playing time, too. On paper, this team is too good to go down.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Arsenal, Man City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Newcastle
Away: Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Burnley

Predicted finish: They’ll do enough to get by, though that home fixture list is simply brutal. Safe before the final weekend.

Social media wrap: All 20 Premier League clubs, many players stand against racism

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The protests in the United States have inspired anti-racism statements from around the world, including all gestures from all 20 Premier League clubs and many players and managers.

There have been ongoing protests and horrible violence in the U.S. since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air in Minnesota.

Newcastle United’s American defender DeAndre Yedlin issued an emotional thread (below) as one of a great deal of players to express hopes for change and solidarity, while Schalke’s Weston McKennie explained his wearing a black armband reading “Justice For George” in the Bundesliga this weekend.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

From Ancelotti to Zaha, Antonio to Yedlin, Arsenal to Wolves, we’ve collected many of their sentiments below in what we hope serves as universal disdain for racial prejudice.

Some players like Leicester City’s Wes Morgan and even entire clubs (Arsenal) changed their online identity photos to reflect these troubled times.

All PL clubs issued messages of solidarity, many using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and making no bones about where they stand.

And we’ll start with a longtime PL club currently in the Championship, who blasted a season ticket holder’s rejection of their unifying Tweet.

Here are some other clubs and players worldwide to have noticed what’s happening in the United States.

 

Season restart preview: Bournemouth

Bournemouth season restart
Photo by Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Bournemouth when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Tough sledding for the Cherries, who face zero of their fellow bottom-six sides (though 13th place Newcastle and 14th place Saints both visit the Vitality Stadium).

There’s been an element of bad luck to Bournemouth’s woes, with its expected goals stats showing Ryan Fraser, Joshua King, and Callum Wilson have deserved better end product and that the Cherries’ 14 goals from open play should be closer to 22. The defense has been bad and xG says it could’ve been worse, too. Injuries had hit Bournemouth’s defense corps in a big way, too. How much better will they be after the break?

[ MORE: Ranking every Cherries player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Eddie Howe utilized a 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders for much of the early season, but has gone between a lone striker with a packed-in midfielder and a 4-3-3 when he thinks an opponent is exploitable.

Howe started a 4-4-2 against almost all of the Cherries’ remaining opponents, choosing a 5-4-1 against Wolves and Man City. There’s no guarantee he’ll continue that, especially when some matches may dictate a draw or limited goal differential damage over wins.


Possible XI (4-3-3) 

—– Ramsdale —–

— Smith — S. Cook — Ake — Rico —

—– Lerma —– Billing — L. Cook —

— Fraser —– C. Wilson —– King —–

Howe prefers to attack when at all possible, but the points will be at a premium against some very challenging opponents. It’s a safe bet that he’ll ask a lot from his forwards while trying to deploy his three relentless midfielders together whenever possible. The question here is whether Aaron Ramsdale returns quickly from his COVID-19 positive test, or if it’ll be Artur Boruc or someone else between the sticks.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Crystal Palace, Newcastle, Spurs, Leicester City, Southampton
Away: Wolves, Manchester United, Man City, Everton

Predicted finish: The Cherries stay up, just, as King and Callum Wilson deliver the goods in front of a determined and improved midfield.

Premier League clubs will reportedly be allowed preseason friendlies

Premier League return
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Premier League clubs will be allowed to play preseason matches ahead of the 2019-20’s restart season later this month.

There will be strict protocols due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the matches will likely be officiated by club coaching staffs (We have so many Jose Mourinho as ref quips to make here, but let’s keep going anyway).

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Sky Sports says clubs will be limited to opponents within 90 minutes of their venue, and that players will have to drive themselves to the stadiums and go directly to the field in uniform.

With the League One and League Two seasons still hanging in the balance, it’s likely PL sides will be limited to each other and Championship sides. Presumably clubs will not want to meet others still on their fixture list.

We assume some players will get dressed in their vehicles outside the ground, but allow yourself some levity in these challenging times and imagine a fully kitted-up Virgil van Dijk driving the roads from Liverpool to Wigan Athletic.