Dimitri Payet

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16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS — Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

Mbappé enjoys turning 21 with 2 goals as PSG routs Amiens

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PARIS — Kylian Mbappe celebrated turning 21 with a silvery-looking haircut and two more clinical finishes as league leader Paris Saint-Germain beat struggling Amiens 4-1 on Saturday.

It was a familiar sight as the lightning-fast France star with his new dyed hair – after his birthday on Friday – latched onto a long pass from Neymar and adroitly clipped the ball over the advancing goalkeeper.

Mbappe has been involved in 15 goals in his last 12 league games – 11 goals and four assists – and his partnership with Brazil star Neymar continues to flourish.

Neymar danced in front of the home fans after tapping home from close range early into the second half. Mauro Icardi’s effort was blocked and the loose ball rolled kindly across to Neymar.

Angel Di Maria then set up Mbappe with a clever reverse pass down the right, with Mbappe drilling a low shot into the corner in the 65th.

However rampant in attack, PSG remains prone to lapses in concentration at the back and Colombian forward Steven Mendoza was left unmarked when he pulled a goal back five minutes later.

Icardi has been in prolific form since joining on a season’s loan from Inter Milan and notched his ninth league goal in only 11 games, showing his usual dexterity when sliding to the back post to volley in a cross from the left with minutes remaining.

The win kept PSG seven points clear of second-place Marseille heading into the mid-season winter break. PSG has played one game less and has a vastly superior goal difference.

Marseille enjoyed a comfortable 3-1 home win against 19th-place Nimes for a sixth win in seven games. Midfield schemer Dimitri Payet was involved in all the goals – and in another disallowed goal – after a tight first half.

Nimes players were exasperated not to get a penalty on the stroke of halftime, following a video review after center half Duje Caleta-Car appeared to impede Sofiane Alakouch.

Alakouch inadvertently sent the ball into his own net in the 47th after sliding to stop a cross from the right from reaching Payet.

Marseille then had a goal ruled out by VAR after Payet’s deflected shot from the edge of the penalty area clipped striker Dario Benedetto, who was in an offside position.

Benedetto’s next effort stood as he volleyed into the roof of the net from close range in the 66th, after midfielder Morgan Sanson’s saved shot from Payet’s pass bounced up invitingly to him.

Payet got an ovation when he was substituted soon after his well-struck goal in the 82nd. Payet was one of France’s best players at the European Championship in 2016, but then lost his place.

With Euro 2020 looming, he is pushing for a return to coach Didier Deschamps’ squad and has four goals and three assists in six games.

The French league resumes on Jan. 10.

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Striker M’Baye Niang’s late goal gave Rennes a 1-0 home win against Bordeaux and moved it two points above Lille into third place.

Lille was routed 5-1 away to Monaco, despite Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen’s 10th league goal of the season giving Lille a 14th-minute lead.

The prolific Wissam Ben Yedder grabbed two second-half goals to take his league-leading tally to 13 – two more than Mbappe.

Nantes is two points behind Lille in fifth spot after losing 2-1 at home to Angers.

Midfielder Ludovic Blas celebrated his goal after a shot from outside the penalty area in the 18th. Goalkeeper Ludovic Butelle clumsily spilled what was otherwise a comfortable shot to stop.

Midfielder Antonin Bobichon leveled for Angers in the 51st and Algerian striker Farid El Melali pounced late on.

Lyon was missing top scorer Memphis Depay and attacking midfielder Jeff Reine-Adelaide to serious knee injuries sustained last weekend, but still took an early lead at sixth-place Reims through midfielder Lucas Tousart.

After midfielder Mathieu Cafaro leveled from the penalty spot for Reims in the 44th, striker Moussa Dembele missed a late penalty for Lyon in a 1-1 draw.

Center forward Gaetan Laborde netted twice as ninth-place Montpellier easily beat Brest 4-0.

Headers from Malang Sarr and Hicham Boudaoui put 10th-place Nice 2-0 up inside 20 minutes at home to last-place Toulouse, and a brilliant curling shot by midfielder Pierre Lees-Melou. also in the first half, made it 3-0.

Saint-Etienne slumped to a fifth defeat in the last seven games overall, losing 2-1 at 11th-place Strasbourg.

Dijon midfielder Romain Amalfitano’s first league goal since January 2016 was worth the wait in a 2-2 home draw with Metz. As the ball dropped on the edge of the penalty area he struck a superb volley into the bottom corner to equalize moments after Senegal striker Habib Diallo’s 10th of the season gave Metz a 15th-minute lead.

Metz had a player sent off in the second half but earned a point thanks to Habib Maiga’s injury-time goal.

Transfer Roundup: Benedetto, Cahill and more

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Outside of Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille might now have the best attacking trio in all of France.

Olympique Marseille on Monday announced the signing of Argentine striker Dario Benedetto on a four-year contract. The 29-year-old striker has had a long and storied career throughout the Americas. From his upbringing with small Argentine clubs like Arsenal di Sarandi, he made his first big move moving to Northern Mexico to play for Club Tijuana.

Benedetto was an instant sensation, scoring a hat-trick in his first game and eventually earning the interest of Mexican giant Club America. While Benedetto never truly lived up to his potential in Mexico City, he earned a move to Boca Juniors, where he won three Superliga titles and led Boca to the Copa Libertadores final against rivals River Plate.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

He also scored 21 goals in his first season, though his hard-as-nails mentality (which matches his tattoos) has earned him a fair share of injuries. That being said, playing up top in Marseille in-between former West Ham winger Dimitri Payet and Florian Thauvin could prove to result in double-digit goals for the Argentine. He’s also playing for Andre Villas-Boas, a coach with plenty of experience in England and abroad. It will be up to Villas-Boas to get the best out of Benedetto in Ligue 1 this year. Unfortunately for Benedetto, at least this year, he won’t be playing in Europe. Marseille’s fifth-place finish, coupled with Rennes and Strausbourg winning the cup competitions, meant Marseille missed out on even the Europa League.

Here are more transfer stories from around Europe and the Premier League:


Report: Cahill signs with Crystal Palace

For the first time since 2012, Gary Cahill has a new home. Luckily for Cahill, he didn’t have to move very far to find his new club.

According to the BBC, Cahill has signed a contract with Crystal Palace, after London neighbors Chelsea released Cahill at the end of the 2018-2019 season. The 33-year-old centerback was a standout starter for Chelsea until Maurizio Sarri arrived at Stamford Bridge. Cahill, older and unable to keep up with Sarri’s high-pressing style to play a high line defensively, only made two Premier League appearances and eight across all competitions for Chelsea last season.

With Crystal Palace, Cahill could potentially step into a starting role alongside either James Tompkins, Scott Dann, or Martin Kelly. Or, he could be available for a late-game insertion to hold onto a tight lead as Crystal Palace hunts to get over the 40-point mark yet again.

Marseille’s ‘Champions Project’ in tatters

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PARIS (AP) Ridiculous Project.

Arrogant Project.

Fiasco Project.

Deficient Project.

Defeat Project.

These were some of the slogans displayed by Marseille fans last weekend at Stade Velodrome, mocking the “Champions Project” plan of American owner Frank McCourt, who aimed to return the club back to the summit of French soccer and among the European elite.

[ MORE: Sarri’s job in jeopardy? ]

Instead, in front of those poster-holding fans, former European champion Marseille was humiliated by Lyon 3-0 at home.

Ahead of the trip to Toulouse on Saturday, Marseille is seven points behind fourth-placed Saint-Etienne. With only two rounds left in Ligue 1, it means the club won’t even qualify for the Europa League.

Two and a half years after McCourt took over, the southern side has not lived up to expectations, and coach Rudi Garcia’s future is hanging in the balance after he failed to find the right balance in a squad featuring some brilliant individuals.

Marseille, which made it to the 2018 Europa League final but earned only one point in the group stage this season, has 13 defeats in 36 matches in the French league, has conceded 50 goals – its worst total in more than 30 years – and lost all of its matchups against the top three teams.

Constant tinkering with the lineup – Garcia fielded 41 different starting XIs in 44 matches in all competitions – to find a winning combo contributed to Marseille going backward, in sharp contrast to the club’s motto of “Straight to Goal.”

“There is no point looking for excuses,” World Cup winner Florian Thauvin said last month after a loss in Bordeaux. “We should stop fooling ourselves. We did not make a good season. And even if we qualified for the Champions League, what could we achieve? Every year it’s the same thing. We don’t win the games we need, we make too many mistakes.”

Marseille Ultras supporters, who play a major role in the running of the club, have had enough, too, and are asking for Garcia’s firing. They are also unhappy with club president Jacques Henri Eyraud, who appointed the coach when McCourt, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner, launched his project of making Marseille great again, then extended Garcia’s deal to 2021.

“It’s one of the most difficult seasons of my career,” says Garcia, who seems under no illusion his time is up at the club. “But it’s part of my experience, and I’m sure I will use it in the future.”

Upon arrival at the buoyant Mediterranean city, McCourt pledged to revive Marseille by investing 200 million euros ($210 million) over four years. Large amounts of cash have been spent on Mario Balotelli, Valere Germain, and Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo. Marseille’s squad also features Lucas Ocampos, Kevin Strootman, Dimitri Payet, and Florian Thauvin, but Garcia has failed to make them gel as a team.

Thauvin has appeared unconcerned in recent weeks, and has not scored in the league in more than two months. He has repeatedly said his main goal in club football is to play the Champions League and appears bound for a transfer this summer.

Balotelli is not expected to stay either, but Marseille could struggle to find credible replacements as it remains closely monitored by UEFA in regard to financial fair play rules, and might not be allowed to spend as much as it wants.

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

West Ham block Arnautovic exit

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West Ham United and Marko Arnautovic are embroiled in a very public and rather ugly transfer battle.

After a bid of over $45 million was reportedly tabled by an unnamed Chinese Super League club Wednesday (believed to be reigning CSL champs Shanghai SIPG) for West Ham’s star striker, Arnautovic’s agent and brother has said he wants to leave the Hammers.

Danijel Arnautovic released the following statement to talkSPORT in the UK.

“West Ham bought Marko for peanuts. They paid £20million for him, which is nothing in the current market. They bought him to keep them in the Premier League last season and he did that. He took every award at the club; best player, signing of the season and the players’ award. Now West Ham have a fantastic offer. It is close to double what they paid for him. He wants to go to a new market and challenge for titles. This is what he wants. It is his great desire that West Ham accept the offer from China.”

The Hammers responded to the claims with this brief, and rather curt, statement:

Your move, Marko…

Arnautovic, 29, is contracted to West Ham until the summer of 2022 and if the Hammers do not want to sell him then this is a very tough situation to sort out. It is almost a case of deja vu for the Hammers when you think about the situation they had with Dimitri Payet just over two years ago.

Reports suggest Arnautovic will double his wages to $255,000 per week if he moves to China and given his rather lavish lifestyle off the pitch, that extra cash will come in handy in the long run…

The Austrian has been West Ham’s best player by a country mile since joining from Stoke in the summer of 2017, scoring 18 goals in 46 Premier League games and almost single-handedly keeping them in the PL last season. He played a starring role as a lone striker under David Moyes in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign and despite a few injuries he has continued that form into this season under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Arnautovic has a reputation as a trouble maker and a volatile character when things aren’t going his way and it will be intriguing to see how his performances on the pitch play out, despite his brother going on to say “he will give 100 per cent for West Ham” as long as he is at the club. He added that he hopes the Hammers fans understand that “things move on” in sport, but if he wants the supporters to believe that Arnautovic’s main motive for this move is to challenge for titles then he will lose plenty of respect from West Ham’s fans right away.

Their leading goalscorer this season reacted rather angrily towards Pellegrini after being subbed off during West Ham’s 2-0 FA Cup third round win against Birmingham City last weekend (he scored the opener) and the former Inter Milan star was perhaps preempting this possible January exit with his actions.

All of this comes just when it looked like West Ham had figured things out with their squad as Pellegrini had bought wisely in defense this summer, locked Declan Rice down to a new long-term deal and club-record signing Felipe Anderson was purring in support of Arnautovic in attack.

Many will simply say: ‘this is what we warned you about when you signed Arnautovic.’