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Lower-division clubs among hardest hit by pandemic

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MADRID — A Spanish third-division soccer team had just started selling a special membership package for the decisive portion of the season, hoping to bring in some extra income.

Another was counting on the boost from revenue on the back of ticket sales for the upcoming derby against a regional rival, one of its biggest matches of the season.

They were not expecting the coronavirus outbreak, nor to see soccer come to a halt.

The suspension of competitions across the globe has taken a toll on top teams everywhere, but it will be for the smaller clubs that the financial impact may cause the most damage.

While the stoppage has already forced some teams in the major leagues to cut players’ salaries, the effect of the crisis on lower-division clubs may be even more dire, lasting longer and possibly leading to financial collapse.

“Every team in the third division will suffer serious consequences,” Franco Caselli, president of Spanish third-division club Burgos, told The Associated Press. “Some more than others, depending on their economic situation.”

In most countries, there are no lucrative television broadcast deals for teams outside the first and second divisions. Their income comes mostly from ticket sales, small sponsors, team merchandising, season memberships and youth academy memberships – most of which have been affected by the suspension of games.

Caselli said Burgos, one of the bigger clubs in Spain’s third division, is doing well financially and should be able to withstand the crisis, but not without losses.

“We had put on sale a special membership package for the last matches of the league, and more than 1,000 had already been sold,” he said. “That was a 20 percent increase in new memberships at this stage, so the losses will be important.”

Mérida, also in Spain’s third tier, was looking to pack its 14,600-capacity stadium for the derby against Badajoz just before it was suspended because of the outbreak, jeopardizing one of its biggest revenue sources of the season.

Fourth-division club Sant Andreu, which plays in a Barcelona neighborhood at a small stadium where players’ errant shots can go over the stands and onto the nearby streets, estimated a 30 percent deficit from the current stoppage of play.

“We are facing the unknown,” Manuel Camino, president and owner of the club, told the AP. “We don’t know how long this will last.”

Camino said he also doesn’t fear for the club’s future, but others elsewhere were not so optimistic.

Italian third-division club Casertana was one of several lower-league teams to announce it can no longer pay players’ wages.

Casertana President Giuseppe D’Agostino said the financial strain on his cheese company – which specializes in buffalo mozzarella – combined with the lack of matches, became too much to handle.

“Unfortunately, the state of emergency created by the coronavirus represented an enormous blow to all commercial enterprises … and did not spare my company,” D’Agostino said. “That has made it impossible to respect (a) deadline for players’ wages.”

English clubs also struggled to withstand the crisis. Fifth-tier Barnet had to place all non-playing staff on notice in “emergency measures to preserve the club.”

“We have to consider the impact that COVID-19 will have in the immediate and long-term future,” the club said in a statement.

Club chairman Tony Kleanthous said it was his “responsibility to ensure Barnet FC continues to survive and remains financially stable and therefore, I have had to make difficult decisions.”

In Spain, the Spanish soccer federation, which oversees the lower divisions, said it has been able to guarantee the money destined to smaller clubs thanks in part to the extra revenue it generated by taking the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia.

“We have guaranteed 100 percent of the help this year and also for next year,” federation President Luis Rubiales said.

Top-division teams in Europe had already shown signs of struggle, with some in Germany making salary cuts. Players for German title challenger Borussia Mönchengladbach this week approached the club with an offer to take reduced salaries, while Scottish club Hearts asked all of its players and other full-time employees to accept a 50 percent pay cut or contract termination.

Clubs in Switzerland and France also took measures to try to reduce the losses caused by the pandemic, which has infected more than 275,000 people and killed more than 11,400 worldwide.

Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said recently that he hoped the leagues could resume as soon as possible, even if the matches are played in empty stadiums.

“If someone says they’re ruling out ghost games (empty stadium games), then they don’t need to think any more about whether we’ll be playing with 18 or 20 pro clubs,” he said, referring to the debate about promotion and relegation for next season. “Because then we won’t have 20 pro clubs anymore.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Chelsea beat Palace in thriller

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Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 3-2 in a thriller at Selhurst Park as Christian Pulisic scored once again for the Blues as they momentarily moved up to third in the Premier League table.

[ MORE: New PL TV schedule ]

Olivier Giroud and Pulisic put Chelsea 2-0 up in the first half but Wilfried Zaha pulled one back with a great strike from distance. Tammy Abraham jumped off the bench to make it 3-1, then Christian Benteke made it 3-2 as Chelsea survived some scary moments late on as Scott Dann hit the post and Kurt Zouma made a sublime last-gasp tackle in the 95th minute.

CRYSTAL PALACE – CHELSEA: FULL REPLAY

With the win Chelsea now have 60 points with four games to go, while Palace have lost four of their five games since the restart and sit in 14th place with 42 points.


Three things we learned

1. Pulisic does it again: Three goals in five games since the restart for the USMNT winger and Palace struggled to contain him. They tried to kick him all over the pitch and had a central midfielder in McArthur doubling up on him with a full back. And Pulisic still scored. A constant treat, his pace was an outlet for Chelsea and alongside Bruno Fernandes, he’s been the best player in the PL since the restart. Pulisic and Willian switched flanks multiple times throughout and Pulisic Watch gives you an idea of just how good he was.

2. Chelsea’s defensive woes continue: Chelsea were really good in attack but pretty woeful defensively. Sound familiar? Yep. Kepa should have stopped Zaha’s strike. Yes, he hit it hard but it was central. Andreas Christensen was beaten too easily on Palace’s second goal and Chelsea did their best to chuck away the win late on. Lampard needs a new left back, center back and goalkeeper if he’s going to turn Chelsea into genuine title contenders. They missed N’Golo Kante through injury and it showed but in midfield and attack they look pretty set and have lots of options. At the back they did not. That needs to change.

3. Palace need Zaha on the ball more: He spanked home a fine goal and created key chances late on, but Zaha wasn’t on the ball enough. Chelsea had Reece James trying to lock him down and Palace need Zaha in more central areas. When he drifts around he is so tough to stop.

Man of the Match

Willian – He was everywhere for Chelsea, setting up two goals and always an outlet. His experience on the ball helped them ease some of the pressure. Hard to believe his Chelsea career may be over in a few weeks.


Chelsea took the lead in fortunate circumstances as former Chelsea defender Gary Cahill went down with a big injury out wide and Willian raced clear on goal and found Giroud to sweep home the opener.

Mamadou Sakho replaced the injured Cahill and Palace were all over the place defensively. Soon after Kurt Zouma headed wide from a corner as the Frenchman was 10 yards out and should have doubled Chelsea’s lead.

Pulisic did make it 2-0 after the drinks break as Willian found him on the left and he did superbly to shift the ball onto his left foot and he slammed home at the near post to score his third goal in his last five games.

Just as it looked like Chelsea would run away with things, Zaha smashed home from 30 yards out as his thunderbolt from distance caught out Kepa, who may have done better with the effort, and it was game on.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Pulisic buzzed around in the box but Chelsea couldn’t quite find his runs as Palace were under pressure. Giroud then headed a wonderful Reece James cross over as Chelsea clicked through the gears in the second half. Palace did come back into the game in the final 25 minutes as they peppered the Chelsea goal with crosses.

Chelsea then brought on Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Abraham and the duo combined as RLC dinked the ball to Abraham who slotted home off the far post and in to make it 3-1.  Moments later Palace made it 3-2 as Patrick van Aanholt worked his way into the box and teed up Benteke to tap home and set up a wild finish.

Abraham went close to scoring another as Chelsea were dangerous on the counter but Chelsea almost imploded defensively once again late on. First, Dann hit the post with a header as Kepa looked to have got a fingertip on it. Then Zouma arrived just on time to deny Benteke who was somehow clean through on goal in the 95th minute.

Lampard was relieved at the final whistle as Chelsea edged to a hugely important victory.

Pulisic Watch: USMNT star scores again for Chelsea

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Christian Pulisic Watch is in full flow as the USMNT star is having a wonderful start to the restart for Chelsea.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch, Analysis ]

Pulisic, 21, is probably the best player in the Premier League since the restart. Think about that.

As the Eden Hazard comparisons continue, Pulisic just keeps getting his head down and working hard, bamboozling defenders and scoring goals. The Pennsylvanian Messi has now scored three goals in five Premie League games since the restart and he has nine for the season to keep his status as the Premier League’s top goalscorer this season aged 21 or under.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In our latest ‘Christian Pulisic Watch’ we look at his latest superstar display for Chelsea as he was trending worldwide throughout Chelsea’s clash at Crystal Palace.


2nd minute: First touch of the ball out on the left flank as Palace try and snap into the tackles.

5th minute: Dropping deeper centrally to try and pick up the ball.

6th minute: Ran into the box as Willian raced clear of the stricken Gary Cahilll, and proved to be a decoy run as Willian found Olivier Giroud to make it 1-0.

8th minute: Pulisic hooks the ball on centrally to start an attack as Willian tries to get a shot off but it is cleared.

15th minute: Kepa throws the ball out to him but James McArthur closed him down and he plays it back to Azpilicueta.

17th minute: Switches flanks with Willian and is now playing out on the right. McArthur again snaps into a tackle to stop him wriggling away.

22nd minute: Snapping into tackles as he tries to close down Patrick van Aanholt.

25th minute: Giroud lays the ball off to him and he loses it with McArthur once again snapping

27th minute: GOALLL! Pulisic is back on the left and he is set free by Willian. He works the ball onto his left foot and smashes home at the near post. What a strike. His third goal in five Premier League games since the restart.

29th minute: Cuts inside from the left and is tackled in the box by Joel Ward. A constant threat.

31st minute: Back on the right flank now as he switches with Willian again. Finds Willian with a lovely pass but the Brazilian sees his low shot saved.

35th minute: Wins a free kick and Luka Milivojevic is booked for bringing down Pulisic on the left flank.

41st minute: Works hard to try and keep hold of the ball on the right flank as Palace came back strongly after going 2-0 down, with Wilfried Zaha’s stunner making it 2-1.

45th minute: Pulisic is taken down by Joel Ward now. Palace trying to rattle the young American winger.

46th minute: Fast start to the second half as he tries to find Giroud, then almost gets on the end of a cross in front of Vicente Guaita.

48th minute: Involved in the build up and almost gets on the end of Reece James cross at the near post.

53rd minute: Makes a run into the box but Olivier Giroud’s header can’t quite find him. Pulisic then runs at Palace’s defense centrally but three Palace players eventually stop him.

63rd minute: Quiet 10 minutes or so for Pulisic as Palace have plenty of the ball.

74th minute: Doing lots of work defensively as Palace pull a goal back to make it 3-2, just after Abraham scored for Chelsea.

86th minute: Keeps trying to make runs centrally and is in the box when Abraham dragged a shot wide.

90th minute: Accelerates away from his marker and his cross finds Willian who sees his shot blocked. Pulisic left about four Palace players in his trail.

Welbeck’s Goal of Year candidate sends Watford past Norwich City

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Danny Welbeck’s incredible overhead goal gave Watford three huge points and likely sealed Norwich City’s fate in the bottom three as the Hornets picked up a huge 2-1 win at Vicarage Road on Tuesday.

Craig Dawson also scored for Watford, who joins West Ham four points above the bottom three on 31 points.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Emiliano Buendia put Norwich ahead early but the Canaries couldn’t find the end product on a day they arguably deserved a point.

WATFORD – NORWICH CITY FULL MATCH REPLAY

Norwich now sits 10 points back of safety with only 12 available in its remaining fixtures, a perilous path at that considering West Ham-Watford and West Ham-Aston Villa will see teams ahead of it catch points.


Three things we learned

1. Hornets safe(r), Canaries almost done: The rate that the bottom five have been winning lately means Watford’s 31 points feel a lot safer than they probably should. Conversely, Norwich City needed this one. The Canaries still have West Ham and Burnley but will also need to beat Chelsea and Man City away to beat the drop. Sorry, Norwich faithful, but that would be the greatest escape in the history of great escapes.

2. Welbeck’s still got something special in his locker: The former Arsenal and Manchester United forward has endured a lot of struggles, most of them injury-related, but he reminded us of his special talent with a terrific bit of improvisation to produce his first PL goal with Watford. Welbeck’s overhead kick came with tremendous athleticism from 15 yards or so after a cross from Ismaila Sarr was deflected to him at the back post. Stunning stuff, and his first PL goal since scoring for Arsenal on Aug. 25, 2018, versus West Ham.

2. Canaries don’t quit: There’s something admirable about Norwich continuing to scrap despite clearly possessing the least depth in the league following big injuries to defenders. Norwich had more of the ball but couldn’t find a way through, which isn’t a new problem. Emiliano Buendia is a special talent, Teemu Pukki a good finisher, and there are quality pieces in Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, but Norwich doesn’t have enough to produce goals; Buendia’s beauty was the Canaries’ fifth in PL play in 2020.

Man of the Match

Etienne Capoue — The ex-Spurs man is such a good ball mover, even apart from his assist on Dawson’s opener. Capoue completed 95 percent of his passes including a pristine 5-of-5 on long balls (SofaScore). He won duels and made two interceptions in helping the Hornets come closer to safety.


Watford – Norwich City recap

Watford’s Ben Foster made a flying save on a 3rd minute free kick.

It was a warning, and Buendia delivered on the warning with a well-hit left-footed shot across goal after Onel Hernandez dribbled from left to right to find the Argentine.

It was level within moments, as Dawson got the back post to meet Etienne Capoue’s cross and power a header off Tim Krul and into the goal.

Danny Welbeck was on the doorstep in the 42nd minute but couldn’t keep his header from sailing over the bar.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Foster made a great save to deny Max Aarons and Buendia in quick succession nine minutes after halftime.

Welbeck put the Hornets ahead with a sensational bicycle kick goal when Ismaila Sarr’s cross was deflected into the air.

Arsenal – Leicester City stream: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

Arsenal - Leicester City preview
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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Arsenal – Leicester City presents a litmus test for two big names seeking to put a stamp on young tenures at Premier League clubs.

Mikel Arteta and Brendan Rodgers match wits at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday with pivotal table positioning on the line (Watch live at 3:15pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester’s 58 points are good enough for third place but a tepid run-of-form saw the side slip from a virtual guaranteed spot in the Champions League to a possible Europa League competitor.

STREAM ARSENAL – LEICESTER CITY LIVE

Arsenal meanwhile has driven itself into eighth place after a very poor start to the season, its 49 points six points behind fifth-place Manchester United and nine behind the visiting Foxes.

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers signed a new deal with Leicester despite being linked with the Arsenal job before Arteta took the reins in North London.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]


Team news

Neither James Maddison nor Ben Chilwell are able to go, the latter joining the walking wounded in the Foxes’ 3-0 defeat of Crystal Palace.

Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi remain on the outside-looking-in for Arsenal.

What they’re saying

Leicester forward Ayoze Perez on chasing the UCL“We need to make sure we protect what we’ve done so far and we can celebrate something important for us. (Manchester United on the last day) could be like a final you know. We’ll see. Football is not predictable at all. We’ve still got a couple of tough games to play. Hopefully by then we are already qualified. It would mean a lot (to qualify). I’ve not made my debut in the Champions League and It’s something you dream for always. The way we’ve done it, and for Leicester, it could mean a lot. It’s not done yet.”

Mikel Arteta on Arsenal’s Champions League hopes“I think we have to win every game and then wait and pray. It’s not about a game, we need to go game-by-game. A few weeks ago we were really far from thinking about Europe and we are a little bit closer at the moment so lets go game by game and see where that takes us.”

Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

Arsenal is favored to win at +125 compared to Leicester’s +220, via DraftKings. A draw goes for +245.

Jamie Vardy and James Maddison scored in a 2-0 Leicester win over the Gunners at the King Power Stadium earlier this season.

Arsenal – Leicester City Prediction

Leicester could handle the loss of Chilwell but the absence of Maddison has been notable even in the win over Palace. Both teams have tremendous creators and Youri Tielemans has been wonderful for Leicester, but Arsenal have a bit more and the Foxes do have the injury issues even if both of their ailing stars can go. Arsenal 2-0.

How to watch Arsenal – Leicester City stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Tuesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com