UEL Roundup: Wolves thrash Pyunik, and more

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For the second time in as many games, Pyunik was no match for Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Wolves dominated throughout and a quick-fire three-goal barrage in the second half gave the Premier League club a 4-0 victory (8-0 on aggregate) over its Armenian opponents, Pyunik, on Thursday at Molineux Stadium. New Wolves signing Pedro Neto scored the opening goal on his Wolves debut, with homegrown star Morgan Gibbs-White scoring his first of the season as well.

After creating numerous chances in the first half, Wolves finally found the breakthrough in the 54th minute. Adama Traore found space down the right side of the box, and he cut back towards the center where Neto slid and re-directed a shot home. Gibbs-White then followed in the 58th minute with a similar finish from four yards out, before Ruben Vinagre fired home from the top of the box in the 64th minute. Diogo Jota put the icing on the cake in the 87th minute to give Wolves a massive European win at home.

With the win, Wolverhampton Wanderers advance to the Europa League Play-Off Round where it will face Torino, one round before the group stage. Matches will be played on the next two Thursdays, August 22 and August 29.


Rangers advance past Midtjylland

While Celtic endured a disappointing defeat on Tuesday night, its rivals Rangers took care of business at home to advance to the final round of qualifying in the Europa League.

Rangers defeated Danish side FC Midtjylland, 3-1, at Ibrox, to win handily, 7-3 on aggregate. Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos scored a pair, as did new signing Sheyi Ojo. Midtjylland grabbed a second-half goal from Evander, but the club needed four more goals just to advance, and it ran out of time.

Rangers advance to face Legia Warsaw in the next round. American right back Matt Polster didn’t make the 18 for the Scottish club.

Here’s a roundup of the rest of the Europa League action from Thursday:

HJK 2 – 2 Riga
Dinamo Tbilisi 1 – 1 Feyenoord
Spartak Moskva 2 – 1 Thun
SĆ«duva 2 – 1 Maccabi Tel Aviv
BATE 0 – 0 Sarajevo
AIK 1 – 1 Sheriff
Shakhtyor 1 – 1 Torino
Apollon 3 – 1 Austria Wien
MladĂĄ Boleslav 0 – 1 FCSB
Yeni Malatyaspor 1 – 0 Partizan
Zrinjski 1 – 0 Malmö FF
Zorya 1 – 0 CSKA Sofia
Bnei Yehuda 2 – 1 Neftçi
The New Saints 0 – 4 Ludogorets
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 3 – 1 Norrköping
Trabzonspor 2 – 1 Sparta Praha
Valletta 0 – 4 Astana
Viktoria Plzeƈ 2 – 1 Antwerp AET
AEK Athens  1 – 1 Universitatea
PSV 0 – 0 Haugesund
Aris 3 – 1 Molde AET
Strasbourg 1 – 0 Lokomotiv Plovdiv
AZ 4 – 0 Mariupol’
Gent 3 – 0 AEK Larnaca
Eintracht Frankfurt 1 – 0 Vaduz
Sporting Braga 3 – 1 BrĂžndby
Rangers 3 – 1 Midtjylland
Aberdeen 0 – 2 Rijeka
Espanyol 3 – 0 Luzern

Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.