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Bakayoko finding delayed success on loan at AC Milan

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On-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko had really been struggling at AC Milan this season, so much so that there was talk of his departure from both Chelsea and Milan on a permanent basis in January, ending his chance of earning a place with the Blues before it really ever began.

Then, things began to slowly turn around. It began after Bakayoko sat a game for a yellow card suspension in late December. He returned to play in a 0-0 draw against Frosinone, and while Milan failed to score, Bakayoko was one of the most instrumental players on the pitch, brought on by a willingness to take players on himself rather than try to find every cutting edge pass. In the 0-0 draw with Bologna just before his suspension, he attempted one take-on; in the Frosinone match after his return, he attempted five take-ons and was successful in them all.

This trend continued, and it in turn opened up passing lanes. Since returning from his yellow card suspension, Bakayoko has attempted 26 take-ons, completing 18 of them, playing all 90 minutes in each of the six games. This has opened the eyes of Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso.

“Bakayoko is an unusual deep-lying playmaker,” Gattuso said after Milan topped Cagliari on Sunday.  “He used to choose the wrong passes, but now he takes men on, can power past people and create chances.”

Milan has been forced to stick with Bakayoko in midfield due to the long-term calf injury to Lucas Biglia, forcing him out since October. That has benefitted Bakayoko, who has been given time to work out his struggles. Unfortunately, he’s rounding into form just as Biglia makes his return. He was an unused substitute in the Cagliari match, the first time he has been part of the matchday squad since his injury.

“If it’s a problem, we’ll resolve it. Biglia has been out for three months and needs time to find his form,” Gattuso said. “We’ll see if we need to use him in a wider midfield role, if there is the requirement.”

The inclusion of Biglia doesn’t necessarily mean Bakayoko’s minutes will fall, but it may force him into a different role. As Gattuso says, he would likely move from his deep-lying central role to the outside of the midfield three, meaning 21-year-old January signing Lucas Paqueta – who scored his debut league goal on Sunday against Cagliari – could be the one to make way.

Either way, the improvement of the midfield at the San Siro is a significant boost for the club as Milan fights for Champions League qualification. The club currently sits fourth after the Cagliari win on Sunday, but just barely – their 38 points are just one above the trio of Roma, Atalanta, and Lazio.

Bakayoko’s recent form in his role at Milan will also give Chelsea fans hope that he can eventually make his way back to Stamford Bridge and challenge Jorginho or N'Golo Kante for a role in the starting lineup. Jorginho especially struggled mightily in his defensive midfield role against Manchester City on Sunday, and fans have started to sour on Maurizio Sarri‘s Jorginho experiment that has forced Kante into a different role from the one he excelled at for so long.

Even if he never finds his way back to Stamford Bridge, Bakayoko’s improvement could be beneficial to Chelsea in another way – Milan now reportedly wants to take Bakayoko on permanently, which could net Chelsea a significant fee and a player in return. According to tabloid reports in England, Chelsea is hoping Milan’s interest in Bakayoko permanently could net them Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who has played alongside Bakayoko for much of the season.

Funes Mori scores crazy long-distance goal for Monterrey (video)

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Rogelio Funes Mori is healthy again for Monterrey, and that’s a big reason why they lead the Clausura standings.

The 27-year-old Argentinian striker is in great form this Clausura after missing a significant portion of the Apertura with injuries. He had five goals in six Clausura matches coming into Friday night’s match with 16th-placed Monarcas Morelia.

He now has six goals, and his last one was an absolute stunner.

Funes Mori stole the ball off Aldo Rocha’s sloppy touch, looked up, and noticed Monarcas goalkeeper Sebastian Sosa just a hair out of his net. That was all the space he needed, letting loose from at least 35 yards out and producing an absolutely stunning finish that Sosa barely even had time to back up and give a stretch. Just like that, Monterrey went ahead.

Unfortunately for Monterrey, they gave up an equalizer less than a minute later as the left flank of the Monterrey defense saw their controller batteries die, allowing Edison Flores to snag a loose ball behind the lollygagging defenders and fire a low shot past Marcelo Barovero to level the score. The game ended 3-2 to Monterrey as Funes Mori would score a 78th minute equalizer and then the visitors won in stoppage time.

Still, win, lose, or draw, that strike by Funes Mori is something to behold. On the same day that a French top flight player unleashed from nearly halfway, Liga MX has a goal of the same caliber.

Lyon exec claims club working on Fekir extension

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Olympique Lyonnais’ outspoken club president Jean-Michel Aulas has gone on record to claim the club has “made some advances” with regards to a contract extension for attacker Nabil Fekir.

The 25-year-old has been a favorite of Premier League transfer rumors for a good two years now, but Aulas says they are working hard to keep the Lyon captain at his hometown club.

“We have made some advances in Fekir’s contract extension,” Aulas said according to The Mirror . “We are discussing it and soon I’ll have to see Nabil, we aren’t in the final stages but in any case we have advanced.”

Fekir scored 18 goals last season in Ligue 1 play, prompting heavy rumors of a move to England, with Liverpool the most widely reported destination. Things are never easy with Aulas, however, and a deal was never completed. Fekir started this season slowly, prompting many fans to claim he was a one-hit-wonder, but he has picked up the goalscoring pace of late, with six goals in his last nine matches, including the winner in Friday’s 2-1 victory over Guingamp.

He also has three goals in five Champions League appearances this season, and a big test upcoming as Lyon matches up with Barcelona in the Round of 16 next week. A surprise win in that two-legged affair would boost Lyon’s chances of retaining Fekir tremendously as it could convince him the club is on its way up. They currently sit third with PSG still dominating the league by a mile.

Still, it’s also highly possible that Aulas is exaggerating the club’s efforts to re-sign Fekir to put pressure on others who may look to pry him away this summer. A possible extension in the works could force clubs to pony up extra cash in the hopes of persuading him to turn Lyon down. Chelsea has been linked to Fekir this offseason with rumors of Eden Hazard‘s exit, and Liverpool’s chase last summer will likely attach them to his name this coming window as well.

Burnley fan running to every Premier League away match

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One inspired Burnley supporter is turning away days into something much more special, and strenuous.

Scott Cunliffe, who struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and depression from his time working for charities in poverty and violence stricken Southeast Asia, is running from Turf Moor to every single Burnley away game this season. Cunliffe’s endeavor gained serious traction this past weekend when he documented his longest trip yet, the 277-mile trek to Brighton’s Amex Stadium.

The BBC shared his experience through a video that Cunliffe shot on his journey, and it shows him struggling with fears of crowded places, loneliness, and mental fatigue during that time. Cunliffe discusses his route to Brighton, saying he takes more scenic routes to avoid busier sections of roads that have caused him struggles in the past. He also goes on to discuss how he tackles mental fatigue, saying he breaks up the day into minute sections to “micro manage” his journey and keep his mind focused.

Cunliffe’s page on the charity website JustGiving says that he will give all proceeds to Burnley’s official charity Burnley FC in the Community, and that the funds will then be distributed equally to local Burnley charities and other charities around the cities he has journeyed to over the course of the season.

In the video of his trip to Brighton, Cunliffe says that he has been out jogging approximately 77 days over the course of the season so far, and that he has completed somewhere in the vicinity of 87 marathons in that time. He says that he began running to help with therapy for his PTSD and depression and it has grown into a full-on passion.

Cunliffe’s trip to Brighton finished in joy as Burnley won 3-1, a massive result in the relegation battle as they jump to 15th in the Premier League table. The Clarets are home next time out as they host Tottenham, but the club’s next road trip heads in the opposite direction, a trip north to Newcastle at the end of the month.

Bayern suddenly walking wounded prior to Liverpool match

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With Liverpool set to host Bayern Munich on Tuesday in midweek Champions League action, the German giants are suddenly looking at a number of forced changes when they take on the Reds.

The latest injury came in the dying minutes of Bayern’s 3-2 win over Augsburg in Bundesliga play on Friday, as brace-man Kingsley Coman was forced off after Bayern had used all its substitutes. Coman had to be helped off the pitch, and the fear is that he could miss significant time.

The 22-year-old French international is electric when at full strength, but has been troubled by injuries during his time at Allianz Arena. He was plagued by knee problems in his first seasons there, and his left ankle is now the main culprit. Coman saw his season come to an early close right about this time a year ago thanks to ligament trouble in his left ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of the season and the first three months of this season before returning in early December. Now, it seems the troubles are cropping up again in the same spot.

Bayern boss Niko Kovac said after the match that, “It does not look good,” adding, “we’ll have to investigate it tomorrow to find out more.” Should Coman be forced out for any length of time, he would add to the growing list of important players missing for Bayern on Tuesday.

Thomas Muller is suspended after earning a straight red card for a high boot in the final group stage match against Ajax, a damaging loss that saw Muller handed a two-match suspension to keep him out of both legs against Liverpool. Arjen Robben is also out, having been out since early December – oddly enough the same match that saw Coman return – thanks to thigh trouble. While Robben is close to a comeback, he is not fit and has been ruled out of the first leg. Finally, midfielder Corentin Tolisso has been out with an ACL tear since the second league match of the season, and while that’s been in the cards for months, it bears repeating once the depth starts to wear away.

Manuel Neuer has also just returned from a thumb injury, and while he made it through the Augsburg match unscathed and will be ready to suit up against Liverpool, the whole of the Bayern defense looked shaky at times on the counter. Augsburg picked its spots perfectly, scoring 15 seconds into the match and then again before the half-hour mark. The hosts completed an outstanding nine of 10 individual take-ons in the match, finding openings on the break. The Bayern back line was solid in the air, which should give them something to savor from the league victory.

That win was the team’s ninth victory in its last 10 Bundesliga matches, a blistering run that followed a very poor first three months to the campaign.

Without Muller, Coman, and Robben on Tuesday, James Rodriguez and Franck Ribery could see time, as could former Arsenal winger Serge Gnabry who has been a contributing squad player of late while he navigates his own thigh and groin problems.