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Barcelona president says Griezmann talks underway; Atleti now furious

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The Antoine Griezmann transfer saga is into Day 52, and the plot has thickened considerably.

[ MORE: Man United “in the process” of selling Paul Pogba ]

There are loud rumblings once again about a potential move to Barcelona, for the first time in weeks. Not your run-of-the-mill transfer rumors that inevitably lead to nowhere, but straight from the horse’s mouth: Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu revealed on Friday that just 24 hours earlier when directors from each club made “first contact” over a potential deal.

That is, of course, really big news coming from a source that should actually know what he’s talking about.

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It was a bit too transparent of an admission for the folks at Atletico Madrid, though, and they’re now furious over 1) Bartomeu going public with his statement; 2) the terms proposed by Barcelona; 3) his belief that Barcelona and Griezmann previously negotiated, and agreed, a deal back in February. Atleti released the following statement shortly after Bartomeu made his comments:

“On May 14, Antoine Griezmann informed Miguel Angel Gil, Diego Pablo Simeone and Andrea Berta of his decision to leave our club at the end of the season. In the days that followed that meeting, Atletico Madrid learned that FC Barcelona and the player had reached an agreement in March, specifically in the days following the return match of our Champions League tie against Juventus, and that they had been negotiating the terms of the agreement since mid-February.”

With Griezmann’s release clause now just — just — $135 million, down from $225 million as of July 1, he is now significantly more affordable. That hasn’t stopped Barcelona from trying to finagle a nice deal for themselves, though. Rather than paying the $135-million fee upfront, they asked Atleti to accept a deferred payment. Los Rojiblancos‘ response was exactly as one would expect.

“Regarding president Bartomeu’s statement today we wish to state that it is true that yesterday there was a meeting between Miguel Angel Gil and FC Barcelona CEO Oscar Grau, at Barcelona’s request and that at that meeting, Mr. Grau expressed his intention, once the release clause of Antoine Griezmann’s contract had decreased from 200 to 120 million euros, to ask for a deferred payment of the aforementioned amount of the clause in force as from July 1. Atletico Madrid’s response was obviously negative, as we believe that FC Barcelona and the player have disrespected Atletico Madrid and all its fans.”

Barcelona have already completed transfers for midfielder Frenkie de Jong ($84 million), goalkeeper Neto ($29 million) and defender Emerson ($13 million) this summer.

Giuseppe Rossi signs with Real Salt Lake

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Former Manchester United, Villareal, and Fiorentina forward Guiseppe Rossi has signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake in yet another bid to revive his injury-plagued career.

Rossi, a New Jersey-born striker who infamously chose to represent Italy at the international level, has struggled mightily for game time over the past few years thanks to a string of bad injury luck. He most recently made 9 Serie A appearances for Genoa through the latter half of the 2017/18 season, without a competitive match since May 20, 2018.

“For me, MLS has been growing every year and has produced an exciting product,” Rossi said upon signing. “I’m lucky enough to have RSL be my first contact in the league during this process. The club’s respect and kindness towards me is something I appreciate immensely. I can’t wait to see and meet the fans and immerse myself in the RSL culture. Along with the rest of the team, I can’t wait to begin this season and enjoy the journey together.”

The 33-year-old has suffered five major knee injuries throughout his career, including three ACL tears. According to the soccer database Transfermarkt, Rossi has missed upwards of 1,200 days due to injuries throughout his career.

The signing represents an exciting moment for Rossi, who despite his struggles is thought to be a supremely talented player when healthy. No matter how this tenure goes, Rossi’s chance to play back in the United States marks a significant transition for a player who has had a contentious relationship with USMNT fans due to his national team decision. While it’s not as exciting a signing as it would have been 5-7 years ago, Rossi’s return to his home nation is a move with plenty of upside.

Through his European career, Rossi racked up 170 La Liga appearances, 62 in Serie A, 16 in the Premier League, and 12 in Champions League play. Rossi has 29 caps for the Italian national team, scoring seven goals including two against the United States in a 2009 Confederations Cup match.

Real Salt Lake starts its 2020 season against Orlando City on Saturday.

Solskjaer unsure on Martial return as United injury situation worsens

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Manchester United is already missing Marcus Rashford for potentially the rest of the season, and now another Red Devils forward is facing a longer than expected road back as well.

Just as he was rounding back into form, Anthony Martial will be sidelined for an unknown amount of time thanks to a thigh injury suffered in training on Wednesday. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he’s unsure how long Martial will be out, but muscle injuries don’t just go away in a jiffy.

“I don’t know,” Solskjaer said after Manchester United defeated Club Brugge 5-0 to advance in Europa League play. “He went off during training. He tried to be fit for today, it’s not his hamstring, it’s his thigh and in and around the knee. I don’t know.”

Solskjaer’s mention of the hamstring is notable as Martial missed over a month through September with a hamstring problem.

The Red Devils brought aboard Odion Ighalo in January to cover for Rashford’s injury, and Martial has been a critical figure of the Manchester United attack, starting nearly every game since returning from his hamstring troubles in early October. Since his double on Boxing Day, Martial has scored six Premier League goals plus another in the FA Cup and one in Europa League play coming in the first leg of the Club Brugge matchup.

Manchester United’s upcoming fixtures see them take on Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday, with an FA Cup visit to Derby County next week.

Europa League: Man United through, Arsenal shockingly out

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Wolves advanced in Europa League play earlier Thursday comfortably, and while Manchester United also moved on with ease, Arsenal crashed out in painful fashion.

Bruno Fernandes was a menace as Manchester United rolled over 10-man Club Brugge 5-0 at Old Trafford. He struck the post just minutes in before forcing a bigtime save from Simon Mignolet. Fernandes eventually put Manchester United up from the penalty spot just before the half-hour mark, giving the Red Devils the opener after Simon Deli was sent off for clearly handling the ball in the box.

With the man advantage, Manchester United ran ragged, with Odion Ighalo scoring his debut Red Devils goal and Scott McTominay also finding the back of the net in his full return to the squad from injury. The second half was a breeze, with Manchester United hold Club Brugge without a shot on target, while the Red Devils popped off 18 shots with eight of them on frame. Fred tacked on a pair in the final 10 minutes to complete the scoreline.

[ MORE: Early games see Wolves, Bayer advance among others ]

Arsenal appeared to be stumbling towards penalties at the Emirates as they took on Olympiakos. Then they were rescued by a moment of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang magic. Then they were out.

After the Gunners won 1-0 in Greece, the return leg at the Emirates was a slog, with Arsenal falling in regulation 1-0 on a 58th minute Pape Abou Cisse header. That sent the match to extra time where it seemed penalties were imminent after Olympiakos substitute Georgios Masouras hit the crossbar. With just seven minutes to go, Aubameyang produced a bicycle kick to put the Gunners in front.

But just minutes later, Olympiakos leveled the aggregate scoreline with a Youssef El Arabi header in the 119th minute. Aubameyang had another chance to win it for the Gunners, but he couldn’t finish right on the doorstep at the buzzer and Arsenal crashed out of the competition.

In an empty stadium, Inter started sluggish but came back to advance past Ludogorets Razgrad 4-1 on aggregate thanks to a 2-1 victory at the San Siro. Brazilian winger Cauly opened the scoring for Ludogorets to get Inter close on aggregate, but an own goal brought Inter back level and Romelu Lukaku put the Italians in front before halftime to put them out of reach. Lukaku’s strike was a wild header that he worked while laying prone in front of Ludogorets goalkeeper Plamen Iliev.

Ajax’s disappointment continued as last year’s Champions League semifinalists dumped out of Europe via a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Getafe. After a 2-0 first-leg loss, Jamie Mata piled on the Dutch side’s woes with a fifth-minute opener. Danilo got Ajax on the board to level things up minutes later and Carel Etling doubled Ajax’s total to put them 2-1 up and within one on aggregate, but it wasn’t enough. Ajax had 71% possession but could only manage three shots on target, while the two teams racked up nine yellow cards.

Celtic failed to hold serve at home as it crashed out of European competition on a roller coaster 3-1 loss to FC Copenhagen. The visitors scored the opener on a hilarious defensive fail by Celtic five minutes after halftime.

Celtic seemed to have rescued the match as Odsonne Edouard struck in the 83rd minute, but Copenhagen bounced straight back as Pep Biel and Dame N'Doye stunned the Dublin crowd to send Celtic crashing out of Europe.

Shakhtar Donetsk advanced past Benfica in a wild 3-3 draw that saw the Ukranians move on via a 5-4 aggregate victory. Both teams held leads at various stages, but with Shakhtar trailing 2-1 shortly after halftime, Taras Stepanenko and Alan Patrick found the back of the net to put Shakhtar up for good. Benfica’s elimination seals the fate for all three Portuguese sides in the competition after both Sporting CP and Porto were bounced in the early kicks.

Sevilla labored to a 0-0 draw with Romanian side CFR Cluj, with the Spaniard advancing on away goals after a 1-1 aggregate draw. The two teams ripped off a combined 34 shots but neither found the back of the net. Sevilla racked up 2.17 xG, so elimination was not harsh on the Romanians.

The Round of 16 draw will be held at 7:00 a.m. ET tomorrow morning.

Europa League results (bolded team advances)

Arsenal 2-2 Olympiacos (AET)
Manchester United 5-0 Club Brugge
Inter Milan 2-1 Ludogorets
Benfica 3-3 Shakhtar Donetsk
Ajax 2-1 Getafe
Celtic 0-1 FC Copenhagen
Sevilla 0-0 CFR Cluj

Europa League: Wolves through to Round of 16, Portuguese sides stunned

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Arsenal and Manchester United are still set to take the field, but there was an early round of Europa League matches that saw nearly half the Round of 16 field set.

Wolverhampton Wanderers knew it had room to breathe, and they made use of that, advancing cooly to the Round of 16 despite a 3-2 loss at Espanyol that saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate. The 4-0 first-leg win set Wolves up nicely, and they held firm behind equalizers from red-hot winger Adama Traore and Matthew Doherty.

 

Jonathan Calleri picked up a hat-trick for the hosts, including the winner in the 91st minute, but it wasn’t nearly enough to see the Spanish side truly challenge the massive deficit.

Elsewhere, Justin Kluivert gave Roma a spot in the Round of 16 with his 29th minute goal that saw the Italian side through via a 2-1 aggregate win over KAA Gent. The 20-year-old got a sumptuous through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who laid it on a platter for Kluivert’s calm finish. The goal answered Jonathan David’s opener four minutes prior and set Roma up for a 1-1 draw that followed their 1-0 home win in the first leg.

USMNT veteran John Brooks started and played the whole 90 minutes as Wolfsburg rode a 3-0 second leg win to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Norwegian side Malmo. 21-year-old Croatian youth international Josip Brekalo was the lone goalscorer in the second leg, finding the net just minutes before halftime to seal advancement to the next round. Yannick Gerhardt and Joao Victor added second-half cherries on top with his 65th minute to put Wolfsburg into the next stage.

Bayer Leverkusen passed a tough test with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Champions League dropouts FC Porto. After a 2-1 home win in the first leg, the German side got an early 10th minute goal from Argentine international Lucas Alario, initially flagged for offside but corrected by VAR. Porto was awful, managing just one shot through the entire first half and conceding twice more after halftime to Kai Havertz and Kerem Demirbay. Mali international Moussa Marega got 65th minute goal for Porto but it was little more than a consolation.

The other Portuguese club in the competition, Sporting CP, suffered an equally disappointing result as they coughed up a 3-1 first-leg lead and to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey, falling 4-1 in extra time to complete a 5-4 aggregate defeat. After the hosts brought the aggregate back level, it seemed Luciano Vietto had saved Sporting’s lives, but Edin Visca scored in the 92nd minute to send the match to extra time on a 4-4 aggregate draw. Visca then played hero as he blasted a wonderful penalty in the 119th minute to win the matchup.

Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored the opener just after the half-hour mark via a corner, nutmegging the goalkeeper with a header on the doorstep. Danijel Aleksic bagged Basaksehir’s second just before halftime with an absolutely incredible free-kick from miles away to put the hosts 2-0 up and level the aggregate at 3-3, with Basaksehir holding the away goal advantage from the first leg. Sporting CP was saved, however, by Vietto who scored with 22 minutes remaining 

Dutch side AZ Alkmaar slumped out of the competition to LASK, losing 2-0 in Austria which sealed a 3-1 aggregate defeat. 21-year-old Austrian youth international Marko Raguz hit for a quickfire double just before halftime, including one from the penalty spot, to send LASK through to the Round of 16.

Full Europa League results (bolded team advances)

Espanyol 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
KAA Gent 1-1 AS Roma
Malmo FF 0-3 Wolfsburg
LASK 2-0 AZ Alkmaar
Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 Sporting CP (AET)
FC Basel 1-0 Apoel Nicosia