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Coutinho losing playing time in complicating situation

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According to reports in Spain, Philippe Coutinho‘s agents Kia Joorabchian and Giuliano Bertolucci have contacted Barcelona over concerns about his playing time.

However, with a noticeable dip in Coutinho’s recent performance and Ernesto Valverde’s preference for young Ousmane Dembele on the wing, the 26-year-old Brazilian has found himself in a difficult situation, with slight criticism beginning to come from team management.

Prior to Barcelona’s surprising 2-1 loss to Levante in the Copa del Rey final 16, Valverde’s assistant Jon Aspiazu gave a newsworthy response when asked about the Brazilian’s recent lack of playing time. “Coutinho is perhaps not at last year’s level and Dembélé has passed a little above him,” Aspiazu said on the GOL television broadcast of the match. He did reverse that take slightly, following up with, “But he is a player which we consider as a starter and will be very important for us in the remainder of the season, for sure.”

Coutinho has not started any of the last four La Liga matches, with Barcelona winning those four games against Espanyol, Levante, Celta Vigo, and Getafe by a combined 13-1. Valverde not only has directly replaced the Brazilian in the starting lineup with 21-year-old Dembele, but Valverde has added Arturo Vidal to the midfield duo of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, leaving absolutely no room for Coutinho in the lineup.

Coutinho did start the Copa del Rey loss to Levante and play the full 90 minutes, but he was uninspiring despite bagging a late goal from the penalty spot, with Barcelona looking lost in Lionel Messi’s absence. He completed just one pass in the penalty area and collected two key passes, failing to register a single shot on target outside his penalty.

After the Copa del Rey defeat, Valverde was asked about Coutinho’s weakening squad position, and he was far more diplomatic than Aspiazu, but still managed to acknowledge the situation. “If a player is not happy, he has to fight to reverse the situation,” Valverde said.

With ranking club staff addressing the situation publicly and his agents reportedly firing back privately, Coutinho’s status with the Barcelona squad feels like it’s at a crossroads. Despite Barcelona’s surprising Copa del Rey loss, they still hold a five-point lead at the top of the La Liga table, and this could all possibly be for nothing should the Brazilian improve his play and earn more time on the pitch. However, if he continues to ride the bench through the next month, it could trigger clubs to try and pry him away from the Catalan club and take advantage of his worsening squad position.

Cardiff “very distressed,” “praying for positive news” regarding Sala

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Cardiff City executive director Ken Choo has released a statement on the missing flight from France to Wales which carried new signing Emiliano Sala.

Crews in Wales continue to search for the plane, which disappeared from radar late Monday night.

Fans have flocked to Cardiff City Stadium and Nantes town square to lay flowers in hopes of a miraculous recovery for Sala and his pilot.

From Cardiff City’s official site:

“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.

“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation.

“We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire Club with Emiliano and the pilot.

“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.

“We continue to pray for positive news.”

Ronaldo pleads guilty to tax fraud at Madrid court

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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The Juventus forward, who was facing charges stemming from his days at Real Madrid, was in court for about 45 minutes and signed an agreement which will cost him nearly 19 million euros ($21.6 million) in fines.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Ronaldo arrived at court in a black van and was wearing a black sports coat and black pants. He walked up some stairs leading to the court house and even stopped to sign an autograph.

Ronaldo made the deal to plead guilty with Spain’s state prosecutor and tax authorities last year.

In Spain, a judge can suspend sentences for two years or less for first-time offenders.

In 2017, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($16.7 million). Ronaldo was accused of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights.

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Transfer rumor roundup: Man Utd wants Bergwijn; Bournemouth after $16m CB

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Manchester United is hoping to beat a host of teams to $32 million PSV Eindhoven attacker Steven Bergwijn.

The 21-year-old has 10 goals and nine assists this season after breaking out with nine and 11 last season.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Bergwijn plays across the top of attack as a center forward or wing. He has a goal or an assist in 13 of his last 14 Eredivisie matches.

Inter Milan, West Ham United, and Tottenham Hotspur are among the other clubs linked with Bergwijn.

Bournemouth have reportedly seen a near $16 million bid for Brentford defender Chris Mepham, a Welsh international viewed as a piece to help fill the void caused by Simon Francis‘ long-term injury.

Mepham, 21, was with Chelsea’s academy before moving to Brentford. Standing 6-foot-3, he has 48 appearances with a goal for the Bees.

Rafa Benitez and Newcastle continue to seek reinforcements in the market, with The Daily Mail reporting that the Magpies are nearing a breakthrough at left back in the form of Milad Mohammadi.

The 25-year-old Iranian plays for Russian side Akhmat Grozny, and is currently on international duty with Iran at the Asian Cup. He’s one of the mid-table side’s top performing players this season.

The Magpies have also joined West Ham in tracking Josh Maja, the Sunderland striker who is out-of-contract this summer. Maja, 20, has 15 goals in 24 League One matches this season.

Cardiff record signing Sala aboard missing flight

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Cardiff City record signing Emiliano Sala was on a flight that disappeared en route to Wales, Sky Sports is reporting.

The plane disappeared from radar Monday night, and authorities suspended the search because of treacherous conditions before resuming Tuesday morning with “five aircrafts and two lifeboats.”

Here’s Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman:

“We are very concerned by the latest news that a light aircraft lost contact over the Channel last night. We are awaiting confirmation before we can say anything further. We are very concerned for the safety of Emiliano Sala.”

Sala signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Cardiff just three days ago on what was announced a club record purchase from Nantes in Ligue 1.

The Argentine forward, 28, has scored 12 goals in each of his last three seasons at Nantes, the latest dozen coming in 16 matches before his sale to Cardiff.

Cardiff City canceled morning training, while Nantes has postponed its French Cup match. Chairman Waldermar Kita said that Sala is “loved by everyone.”

“He absolutely wanted to say goodbye to his friends, which is normal,” said Kita. “This is a nice boy, polite and loved by everyone, he is very respectful and courteous, I think of his family, and I hope he is somewhere. I am still hoping that it is not finished.”