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Marred by injuries, Dembele fails to meet expectations

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MADRID — More than 17,000 fans were at the Camp Nou when Ousmane Dembele was officially introduced by Barcelona in 2017.

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The expectations were high at the time. The then-20-year-old French forward had been touted as a possible replacement for Neymar, who had just left for Paris Saint-Germain in a record transfer.

Barcelona paid 105 million euros (then $125 million) to sign Dembele from Borussia Dortmund, with add-ons that could have reached 147 million euros ($175 million) and made him the second-highest transfer in soccer history at the time.

Two-and-a-half seasons later, though, Barcelona is still waiting for Dembele to meet all those expectations.

Dembele’s stint with Barcelona has been marked by his numerous injuries, not his goals. Wearing the No. 11 shirt that Neymar used to wear, Dembele has been injured nine different times since arriving, being sidelined for several months and missing more than 60 matches. In the nearly 70 matches Dembele did play, he scored 19 goals.

Dembele’s latest setback is a right-thigh hamstring tear that is likely to keep him out of action for the rest of the season. The injury came in training on Monday as he entered the final stages of his recovery from an injury that had already kept him sidelined since November.

He was almost certain to have a place in the starting lineup once he was back, as striker Luis Suarez is also out injured and is not expected to be fit again until later in the season. Young forward Carles Perez, who also competed for a spot in the attack, signed with Roma in last month’s transfer window. His main competition would have come from Ansu Fati, who is only 17 years old.

“I was confident that Dembele was going to be very helpful for us,” Barcelona coach Quique Setien said Wednesday. “It was unfortunate. It’s sad to see him like that. He is a great kid, I saw how he had been working hard.”

The 22-year-old Dembele had his first major injury shortly after he debuted with Barcelona. It was another hamstring injury, in the left leg, and it kept him out for four months.

Most of his injuries have been muscle problems, with a few ankle issues thrown in.

Dembele’s most recent injury will likely force Barcelona to try to sign another forward, though it will have to look for the player in the Spanish market as the international window ended last month. It would also need authorization from the Spanish soccer federation to add another player to its roster.

The club’s only signing in attack was young Portuguese forward Francisco Trincao, but he will only join the squad after the end of the season.

One of the forwards linked to a possible move to Barcelona is Angel Rodriguez, who has nine goals in 19 Spanish league games with third-place Getafe.

“We will see how it goes,” Setien said. “But if we can’t bring anyone else, it will be fine. We will keep working the same way as we did before.”

Barcelona is also mired in off-the-field problems. Lionel Messi this week publicly hit back at sports director Eric Abidal for criticizing his efforts under former coach Ernesto Valverde. Messi used his Instagram account to say Abidal and other club directors should take responsibility for their recent decisions. Abidal met with club president Josep Bartomeu on Wednesday and was expected to remain on the job.

Everton stays perfect in energetic win over Crystal Palace

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Crystal Palace – Everton: Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison scored as Everton won a battle of unbeatens with Crystal Palace on Saturday at Selhurst Park.

The Toffees claimed a 2-1 win to go 3-0 on the young Premier League season, handing Palace their first loss.

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Palace’s goal came from a Cheikhou Kouyate header.


3 things we learned: Crystal Palace – Everton

1. Ancelotti pushing the right buttons, especially with James: Carlo Ancelotti’s first full season guiding the Toffees could hardly be going better, with away wins at Palace and Spurs and a home blowout of 10-man West Brom. Yes, Everton got penalty luck on a similar play that was deemed not an offense when Palace took a shot, but few would argue that the visitors didn’t do enough anyway for a win. James Rodriguez remains on another level when playing under the Italian, which is reason enough to celebrate the relationship.

2. Palace a bit unlucky in losing perfect mark: Roy Hodgson’s men will feel they should’ve had a point when Calvert-Lewin’s half-torso, half-arm block in the 18 was not given to Palace as a chance to level from the spot, especially with Ward’s handball being awarded as a pen. With Guaita getting a piece of Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal and Palace having a strong late run of possession, these were fine margins even if Everton likely deserved no less than the point.

3. Is goalkeeping an issue for Everton? Jordan Pickford is being questioned again, days after a silly giveaway cost Everton a goal. Maybe we’re not talking about the goalkeeper’s inability to get a hand on Kouyate’s hammered header if not for the midweek moment, but the goal was Palace’s only shot on target. Pickford hasn’t been great since the season

Man of the Match:

Seamus Coleman. It’s difficult to choose who was better in attack between Calvert-Lewin and Rodriguez, but the Irish right back was dynamic at both ends in setting up the first goal and making three tackles, an interception, and a blocked shot.


Crystal Palace – Everton recap

The Toffees are playing really good football and the opening goal exemplified their attacking prowess as Seamus Coleman started a move with Abdoulaye Doucoure and James Rodriguez which returned to the Irishman for a pass inside the box that Calvert-Lewin put off Vicente Guaita and into the goal.

Palace found a leveler off a set piece, Andros Townsend’s corner kick finding the leaping Kouyate for a header through the flailing arms of Jordan Pickford.

 

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Joel Ward had two close-range handball penalty shouts reviewed by VAR. The second was just a bit closer to the real deal and VAR awarded Richarlison his chance from the spot. 2-1, 40′.

VAR did not give Palace a chance to level from the spot when Calvert-Lewin blocked a shot inside the box with a combination of his arm and torso, the appendage squeezed close to his side but

‘Not the bad guy’: Koeman hits back on Suarez exit at Barcelona

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman is not worried about the commitment of Lionel Messi to the team despite his ongoing conflicts with the club leadership.

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Koeman said Saturday that he cared about the efforts of Messi on the field – and not his criticisms of the board for stopping him from leaving Barcelona while pushing out teammate and friend Luis Suarez.

“It is normal that a player is sad when a friend leaves,” Koeman said in a conciliatory tone toward Messi, a day after the star forward went to social media to complain that Barcelona’s board had not given Suarez the exit he “deserved.”

“But the most important thing for me is how Leo has trained. He has been an example for the rest in practice and in the (preseason) matches,” Koeman said a day before his official debut as Barcelona’s coach against Villarreal.

Suarez learned of the club’s decision to get rid of him through a call from Koeman, who was hired after the team lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich to end last season. After probing a transfer with Juventus in Italy, Barcelona ended up sending Suarez to Spanish league rival Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Koeman, however, made clear that he did not want to be considered solely responsible for the departure of the 33-year-old Suarez, who left Barcelona as its third all-time leading scorer.

“I must say that I look like the bad guy … That is not true,” Koeman said. “It was a decision of the club. The club, before I had become its coach, took some decisions. This was not my sole decision as coach; it was also the decision of the club. It is an effort to change the team. Younger players will have more opportunities.”

Those younger players include new signings Francisco Trincao and Pedri, and 17-year-old Ansu Fati.

“Ansu is a great talent,” Koeman said about the striker who became Spain’s youngest all-time scorer on his debut earlier this month.

“There are few players who have shown they can play for Barca. He is a player of the future.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea, who is still a week or two away from seeing Christian Pulisic in a match.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

Hal Robson-Kanu’s leg is not a problem after a good midweek in the League Cup and he’ll start on the bench.

Christian Pulisic is out for Chelsea but Cesar Azpilicueta is fit to see the bench.


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

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Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Potter, Trossard lament latest bit of Brighton misfortune

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Less than 18 hours after ProSoccerTalk posited that positive Brighton and Hove Albion’s lack of luck must be coming to an end, Graham Potter’s hosts smashed the post five times and had VAR award a penalty after the final whistle had blown.

Sorry, Seagulls supporters.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The match ended when Neal Maupay’s handball was spotted after the Seagulls had leveled the match at 2 deep in stoppage time, Bruno Fernandes scoring the decisive penalty in a 3-2 for the visitors to the Amex Stadium.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his side was lucky on a day they were out-attempted 18-7, while Potter could simply muster, “That’s football” regarding the posts and extremely late VAR drama.

That said, he does wonder how the match got to the eighth-minute in the first place. Hashtag Fergie Time.

Here’s Potter via the Brighton and Hove Independent:

“I’d say we deserved something from the game,” Potter sad. “I would say that’s an understatement.”

Potter said he “didn’t know where the extra time came from,” adding: “I thought we scored with the last kick of the game. … We are bitterly disappointed to concede the way we have, at the time we have.”

Expected goals site Understat says Brighton won the xG battle 2.98-1.58.

Brighton winger Leandro Trossard was responsible for three of the five posts struck by the losing side.

“Unbelievable, the feeling I can’t describe, we were the better team today,” he said. “We deserved at least a point, it’s a shame. There were five minutes added on and we played at least seven. Sometimes it’s just not your day.”

Even for a side as snakebit as the Seagulls, Saturday’s loss is a sick one.