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Griezmann could be key for Barcelona against Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain — If Lionel Messi listens to Real Betis and sits out another match, Barcelona will likely have to rely on Antoine Griezmann to finally get some points on the board.

Betis, which visits the Camp Nou on Sunday, responded to a tweet by Barcelona that Messi was back to practicing with the team for the first time since being injured in the preseason by saying: “Don’t rush, Leo. No need for you to force it!”

Barcelona couldn’t make up for Messi’s absence last weekend when its attack was held scoreless in a 1-0 loss at Athletic Bilbao.

That was the first time the two-time defending champions had lost a Spanish league opener in a decade. And after both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid won, the pressure is on.

Barcelona acquired Griezmann after triggering the 120 million euro ($133 million) buyout clause in his contract with rival Atletico. The France forward was supposed to be the fourth piece to an already world class attack featuring Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele. But Griezmann may be left with all the scoring responsibility in his competitive home debut.

Messi strained his right calf in the team’s first practice of the season on Aug. 5 and hasn’t played since. Although it is possible he will be back to face Betis, Suarez won’t be after he injured a right leg muscle in the first half at Bilbao. Dembele has also been ruled out for several weeks with a left thigh injury.

Philippe Coutinho, who could have helped out as an attacking player, is no longer with the team after being loaned out to Bayern Munich this week. Malcom, a Brazilian forward who played sparingly for Barcelona last season, was sold to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Griezmann had a lackluster match at Bilbao. His only good scoring chance at San Mames Stadium came in the final minutes with a header.

The Frenchman, however, is used to carrying a team on his back.

Griezmann was a consistent scorer for Atletico, tallying more than 20 goals a season for five consecutive years despite the team often not having another attacking threat to draw away some of the attention of opposing defenses.

The problem at Bilbao, he said, was simply “the ball didn’t go in.”

The other player who could make the most of the opportunity created by the injuries is 21-year-old Carles Perez, a member of Barcelona’s reserve team. He impressed in the preseason, even scoring two goals in a 2-0 win over Japanese club Vissel Kobe, where former Barcelona great Andres Iniesta now plays.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde included Perez in Wednesday’s team practice.

Betis was the only team to beat Barcelona at its home stadium last season, outgunning the hosts 4-3.

Since then it has changed coaches, replacing the attack-minded Quique Setien with the more conservative Joan “Rubi” Ferrer, who led Espanyol to a Europa League berth. Barcelona also poached one of its top players, left back Junior Firpo.

Betis lost its Spanish league opener, falling 2-1 to Valladolid at home.

The last time Betis played Barcelona was in Seville in March. Messi scored three goals and received a standing ovation from the Betis fans.

Fernandes runs the show as Manchester United crushes Watford

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Bruno Fernandes scored a goal and helped set up two as Manchester United beat Watford 2-0 at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Anthony Martial recorded United’s second goal with a magical finish off his own rebound after Fernandes sent him through on goal, while Mason Greenwood added a late goal after a 1-2 with the Portuguese.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

United is now fifth with 41 points, three points back of fourth-place Chelsea.

Watford had a goal chalked off by VAR, and remains in the bottom three with 24 points. That’s one point off 17th and two off 16th.


Three things we learned

1. Bruno as advertised: There was no question Fernandes addressed a need for the Old Trafford set, but few would’ve seen the Portuguese revolutionizing the team’s attack so quickly (and also underlining how badly United has missed Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba). It’s not silly to say Fernandes could’ve had four assists on the day. Magnificent stuff from the 25-year-old. No surprise he has Cristiano Ronaldo’s endorsement.

2. Greenwood shows another glimpse: The Mason Greenwood hype train hasn’t been as pronounced as Marcus Rashford’s of years past, and we’re grateful for that. But his shoulder move and sick cut before dribbling 50 yards to combine with Fernandes on the third goal of the game was gorgeous stuff. More hope for the future.

3. This: It’s easy to forget the heights of which somewhat-mercurial Anthony Martial is capable.

Man of the Match: Fernandes had four key passes and was perfect in his take-ons and ground duels. Incredible show.


Poor communication between Harry Maguire and Nemanja Matic sprung Troy Deeney toward goal, but United left back Luke Shaw saved his teammates further blushes with a block.

Abdoulaye Doucoure then ran onto a dummied Gerard Deulofeu pass but found himself closed down by David De Gea.

United should’ve been up through Wan-Bissaka when Foster parried a cross onto his path, but the English back struck the ball tamely into the outside of the goal.

Bruno Fernandes led a terrific 38th-minute move, and Daniel James eventually teed up Fred for a shot that curled wide of the goal.

The January signing danced past Ben Foster and hit the deck when the Watford goalkeeper went to ground. VAR stayed with the call on the field, and Fernandes finished well with a little hop step.

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Deeney looked to have made it 1-1 in the 52nd minute, thumping a. ball into the top of the goal when a corner kick was turned off the post by Craig Dawson‘s arm. It was attached to his body, but that does not matter in the attacking box.

Martial instead made it 2-0 off a Fernandes feed, collecting his own rebound before dribbling Watford dizzy and spinning a chip into the goal.

Fernandes spotted Maguire with a seeing-eye cross in the 69th, but the defender’s header was poor.

Greenwood scored his goal in the 75th, carrying the ball 50 yards before working a 1-2 with Fernandes and finishing with aplomb.

Odion Ighalo came close to getting on the board for his new club against his old one, but Adam Masina deflected his shot off the post.

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Everton

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Everton and Arsenal both look to stay in the top five discussion when they meet at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Carlo Ancelotti has Everton on 36 points, five back of fifth, while ex-Toffees midfielder Mikel Arteta has the Gunners on 34 points.

[ WATCH: Arsenal v. Everton ]

Andre Gomes returns to Everton’s bench after his gruesome injury earlier this Fall, and Ancelotti makes five changes to his Starting XI. Ex-Arsenal man Alex Iwobi will start for the Toffees.

Nicolas Pepe rejoins Arsenal’s Starting XI after a Thursday match in the Europa League.

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Fernandes scores first goal, says Ronaldo backed Manchester United move

Bruno Fernandes Ronaldo
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It’s probably not a surprise that a young Portuguese player would fancy Manchester United given the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford early his career.

Bruno Fernandes admits that those images danced through his head well before he signed with the Red Devils in January.

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It’s also not a shock that United would turn to their former player for a take on the playmaker before buying him from Sporting Lisbon.

Fernandes says he’s grateful that CR7 endorsed BF18. From Sky Sports:

“I know some people asked Cristiano what he thought of me and what I was like as a player and a person,” Fernandes said. “I know he spoke highly of me and gave me a good reference, so I sent him a message after to thank him for his kind words.”

Fernandes has 19 caps and two goals for Portugal, while Ronaldo has a few more with 164 and 99.

He now has a goal and an assist in four appearances for United. Ronaldo finished with 118 goals and 69 assists in 292 appearances for the Red Devils.

Here’s the finish:

Eden Hazard suffers fracture ahead of Man City in UCL, El Clasico

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Eden Hazard is set to miss the Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League first leg against Man City with a broken fibula.

Hazard had only returned to the lineup for two matches following a three-month absence with an ankle injury.

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The 29-year-old has made just 15 appearances for Real since arriving in a big-money move from Chelsea, scoring once with five assists.

He has never appeared in less than 30 league matches over the course of his career, five times missing one or zero matches.

Of course, all of his absences show that Real is very comfortable playing and winning without Hazard. Zinedine Zidane’s men lost Sunday to drop behind Barcelona in La Liga, but that was just its second loss of the league season.

Real will be taxed in depth like its rivals, with Wednesday’s visit from Man City followed by an El Clasico at the Bernabeu on March 1. Barcelona hosts Napoli on Tuesday.

Whether you like the playmaker or despise him, there must be some sense of sympathy for his latest ailments (even if Man City and Barca fans will likely offer a Jerry Seinfeld-esque, “That’s a shame”).