Dimitri Payet

Benedetto swim cap
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Marseille striker Benedetto wears swim cap after head injury

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Marseille striker Dario Benedetto came off the field with blood pouring from a head wound, and went back on wearing a swimming cap in his side’s 2-2 home draw against struggling Amiens on Friday.

The bizarre scene happened after he clashed heads early on with an Amiens defender. After briefly receiving treatment, Benedetto ran back on with a tight-fitting blue cap covering his wounded head.

Marseille’s reputed “Cercle des Nageurs” swim club has trained former Olympic champions, the siblings Florent Manaudou and Laure Manaudou, as well as former world champion Camille Lacourt.

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Benedetto kept his cap on for the rest of the French league game, but failed to add to his club-leading 11 league goals as second-placed Marseille carelessly threw away a 2-0 lead after goals from midfielders Morgan Sanson and Dimitri Payet.

Amiens replied in the 84th thanks to forward Serhou Guirassy’s penalty and equalized in the fifth minute of injury time through Iran midfielder Saman Ghoddos.

Marseille forward Valere Germain was at fault, naively trying to lead his side to a third goal with 30 seconds left, rather than just kicking the ball out.

Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas was sent off as he protested angrily to referee Francois Letexier after the final whistle.

Yet his players were squarely to blame.

“It’s not possible. We can’t complain about the referee,” Marseille’s Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman said. “If you want to play the Champions League, you can’t play this way.”

Marseille trails Paris Saint-Germain by 12 points, but remains favorite to qualify directly for next season’s Champions League. Marseille leads third-placed Rennes by nine points with 10 rounds remaining after this weekend.

PSG’s game Strasbourg on Saturday was called off following a decree from the Alsace city prefecture because of the escalating coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, the roof at Stade Pierre-Mauroy will remain open even if it rains when Lille hosts Lyon.

The coronavirus reached 577 cases in France by Friday afternoon, with nine deaths.

Top European teams roll in domestic Cup action

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Manchester City advanced in the Carabao Cup despite losing to Manchester United, but otherwise most top teams across Europe advanced in domestic Cup action with little trouble.

Real Madrid hammered Real Zaragoza 4-0 in the Copa del Rey behind four different goalscorers. Raphael Varane opened the scoring just six minutes in, and it was elementary from that point on. Lucas Vazquez doubled the lead past the half-hour mark, while Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema tacked on goals inside the final 20 minutes. The Vinicius goal was the pick of the lot, poking home the finish with the outside of his foot. Zaragoza held its own in front of net, actually out-shooting Madrid 15-13, but only put three of its 15 efforts on target and struggled to cope with Madrid’s ruthlessness in front of net, and overall it was just too easy for the La Liga leaders who advanced to the quarterfinals of the competition.

In other Copa del Rey scores, defending champions Valencia needed penalties to pass by Segunda Division side Cultural Leonesa after a 0-0 draw. Santi Cazorla scored as Villareal topped Rayo Vallecano 2-0, with both Villareal goals coming inside the final 10 minutes of the match.

In France, both Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille advanced by two-goal margins, also moving into the quarterfinals.

PSG started a second-choice eleven against third-tier Pau and worked a 2-0 victory behind goals from Pablo Sarabia and Leandro Paredes. Mauro Icardi led the lines for PSG supported by the likes of Julian Draxler and Eric Maxim Chupo-Moting, while Ander Herrera held down the midfield.

Marseille topped fellow Ligue 1 challengers Strasbourg 3-1 with Dimitri Payet on the scoresheet alongside Bouna Sarr and Boubacar Kamara. It was tight through the end until Kamara put the game away in the 95th minute. Payet’s goal came from the spot, while Sarr’s opener just past the half-hour mark featured a dizzying, sparkling run through the penalty area past three defenders before finishing with the left foot.

Inter had a tougher task, squeaking by Fiorentina 2-1 to reach the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. Antonio Candreva poached a goal in the 44th minute on a goalmouth scramble to put Inter in front, and while Fiorentina drew level on the hour mark off a corner, Nicolo Barella delivered a venomous blast seven minutes later to seal the win. The match featured the debut of Christian Eriksen off the bench, seeing time on the field alongside four other former Premier League players for Inter in starters Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, and Ashley Young plus substitute Victor Moses.

The one side that fell in disappointing fashion was French club Lille who slumped to a 2-1 defeat to fourth-tier side SAS Epinal. Former Chelsea striker Loic Remy scored just eight minutes into the match to put Lille in front early, but the minnows managed a pair of second-half goals from Jean-Phillipe Krasso to pull off the enormous upset.

The only top European league that did not feature any domestic Cup action this week was Germany, whose DFB-Pokal is still in the Round of 16. Those matches will take place next week with RB Leipzig taking on Eintracht Frankfurt while Bayern Munich hosts Hoffenheim, Bayer Leverkusen meets Stuttgart, Schalke hosts Hertha BSC, and Borussia Dortmund visits Werder Bremen.

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.

OTHER MATCHES

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.

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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.