Thomas Vermaelen

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Barcelona acquires defender Murillo on loan from Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona has acquired Colombia center back Jeison Murillo on loan from Valencia to help patch up its injury-hit defense.

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Murillo, 26, will join the club after passing a medical exam, Barcelona says. The loan, for the remainder of the season, gives Barcelona the option to buy Murillo for 25 million euros (28.6 million dollars).

He has only played three matches for Valencia this season and played for Inter Milan for two years before leaving at the start of last season.

Barcelona is without injured defenders Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen, with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet its only available center backs.

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Vermaelen out a month, compounding Barcelona defensive woes

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Barcelona’s back line has been forced to dig deep of late, and they’ll be digging even deeper with the news that center-back Thomas Vermaelen will miss a month with a calf injury.

The La Liga leaders announced that Vermaelen would miss approximately four weeks with a torn calf muscle, meaning he would be healthy to return sometime around mid-January. Barcelona has league games against Eibar on the 13th and Leganes on the 20th, with the second leg of a Copa del Rey Round of 16 matchup against Levante sandwiched in between.

Vermaelen hasn’t exactly been a heavily used player this season, nor throughout his Barcelona career, but his presence of late had become vital after Samuel Umtiti went down in late September with a long-term knee injury. Vermaelen himself had just returned from a hamstring injury, playing his first minutes since early October on Sunday. However, he was forced off after 52 minutes in the 5-0 win over Eibar, sidelined yet again.

The 33-year-old has been plagued by injuries his entire career, known first at Arsenal and again at Barcelona for his struggles to stay on the field. Vermaelen missed time last year with knee, leg, and hip injuries that held him to just over 1,500 total minutes across all competitions.

In addition, full-backs Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo are struggling with injuries. Manager Ernesto Valverde had decided to utilize a back-three against Eibar to cover for the lack of full-backs, with Clement Lenglet in as the third, but after Vermaelen went down,, central midfielder Arthur was brought on, leaving Lenglet to partner with Gerard Pique at the back and switching to a tradtitional back-four. While Jordi Alba was easily able to switch back to his traditional left-back spot, the absence of both Roberto and Semedo leaves no true right-back available for the more traditional formation.

With the absences, it would be surprising if Barcelona did not bring in cover during the January transfer window to ease the injury woes.

Barcelona ships four goals in loss to Real Betis

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The top of the La Liga table is nowhere near straightforward this season.

Barcelona failed to build a gap at the summit as they fall 4-3 at home against Real Betis on Sunday. Lionel Messi scored twice in his return from a broken arm, but was unable to overcome a multitude of defensive mistakes.

Junior Firpo, Joaquin, Giovani Lo Celso, and Sergio Canales all found the scoresheet for the visitors at the Camp Nou as they routed the Barcelona back line.

The first came from 22-year-old Firpo in the 20th minute who finished with his right foot one-on-one against Sergi Roberto after a brilliant long-distance feed from William Carvalho. Barcelona would fall 2-0 behind before halftime as Clément Lenglet whiffed attempting to clear a cross that skittered across the face of goal, and with the defenders all sucked towards net by the fast paced counter-attack, Cristian Tello cut the ball back into the middle where Joaquin was waiting to finish with a nifty little flick. Messi brought Barcelona a goal back from the penalty spot past the hour mark, but Giovani Lo Celso found space in the box just three minutes later and powered it home past Marc-Andre ter Stegen who got a touch.

Arturo Vidal again drew Barcelona within one before Betis would find the ultimate winning goal in the 83rd minute in a vicious flurry. Betis forced ter Stegen to come off his line and make a smothering save near the left post, which he did before booting the chance clear. It came right back at the Barcelona defense, however, as a streaking Junior Firpo cannoned the ball across the face of goal where Sergio Canales split Lenglet and Roberto with a sliding finish.

Barcelona’s defense has suffered greatly in the absence of Samuel Umtiti, who was unable to return from his knee injury in time to be fit for the match against Real Betis, having missed nearly six weeks. Lenglet has filled in during Umtiti’s absence, and Barcelona has conceded nine goals over the last four matches with the understudy in the lineup. Thomas Vermaelen has also been absent with a hamstring injury suffered after he played 90 minutes against Valencia in early October.

With the loss, Barcelona holds just a one-point lead over Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Alaves at the top of the La Liga table, with Espanyol three points back and Real Madrid still seven points behind.

Kompany, Salah in; Sane out as World Cup squads released

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The final 23-man squads for the 2018 World Cup are being announced on June (deadline is 11 a.m. ET) and there have been plenty of surprises so far.

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Perhaps the biggest shock is that Germany have left Leroy Sane out of their final squad with the PFA Young Player of the Year in the Premier League expected by many to be a key player for Die Mannschaft this summer.

Not Joachim Low.

It is a huge call from Low after Sane, 22, had a breakout season in England, winning the Premier League title and League Cup with Manchester City. The winger scored 14 goals and racked up 17 assists in all competitions but with Germany playing a 3-5-2 formation their need for wingers is scarce and Sane was a victim of Low having an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas with Julian Brandt, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller, Timo Werner, Leon Goretzka, Mezut Ozil, Julian Draxler and Mario Gomez ahead of him.

Sane’s captain at Man City, Vincent Kompany, is heading to the World Cup as Roberto Martinez chose to select him in his final squad despite the veteran center back suffering a groin injury in their friendly draw against Portugal on Saturday.

Kompany, 32, has worked hard to get back to full fitness this season for City but there is still some doubt as to just how serious this latest injury is. Still, he’s heading to Russia and Belgium certainly have plenty of cover in that area of the pitch with Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen all in the squad, plus Laurent Ciman on stand-by.

There is also positive news for Mohamed Salah as the Liverpool star was included in Egypt’s final 23-man squad as he continues his recovery from a left shoulder injury.

Salah, 25, has been working around the clock to be fit to play for Egypt after coming off injured in Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid on May 26.

Egypt believe he will be out for no longer than three weeks with the injury and the winger who scored 44 goals in all competitions for Liverpool this season will surely be fit for at least their last two Group A games. Appearing in their first World Cup since 1990 The Pharaohs appear to have their superstar back, which is not only great news for Egypt but the entire World Cup.

Here at Pro Soccer Talk we will have a full list of the final squads for you when they’re confirmed at around 11 a.m. ET today.

Stay tuned for more surprises…

La Liga & Serie A: Bale leads Real to seven-goal outburst and more

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruna

Now, this is more like it from the defending European champions. Zinedine Zidane’s side went behind on Sunday when Adrian put the visitors in front, however, Real Madrid woke up and scored seven unanswered goals at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gareth Bale was the star on the day with a brilliant curler that kicked off the first of his two goals (below). After Cristiano Ronaldo appeared to go down inside the penalty area, Bale carried on and put the ball onto his left foot before sliding his shot in off the inside of the far post.

Meanwhile, Ronaldo picked up a brace of his own on the day, both of which came off of headers for the Portuguese international. The veteran goalscorer also got bloodied on the day, but that didn’t stop him from adding to his impressive goal total.

Real Betis 0-5 Barcelona

A slow start to the match was aided by a Barcelona team that came out for blood in the second stanza. Ivan Rakitic and braces from Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi paced the road side in the second half, keeping their unbeaten La Liga record in tacked.

Although Rakitic was the first to find his name on the scoresheet, it was his assist to Suarez that later on that proved to be a thing of excellence from both parties.

The first half was mildly uneventful for the Blaugrana, however, the Catalonians suffered another injury blow as Thomas Vermaelen left the match after pulling up in the first half with what appeared to be a hamstring pull.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Alaves 2-2 Leganes
Real Sociedad 1-2 Celta Vigo

Lazio 5-1 Chievo Verona

Lazio moved into third place in Serie A after a convincing victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s double for the hosts helped propel them to the win, after Luis Alberto kicked off the scoring in the 23rd minute.

Chievo found a brief response two minutes later, but from there it was all Lazio as they closed to within 11 points of league leaders Napoli.

Cagliari 1-2 AC Milan

Franck Kessié scored twice in six minutes to pull Milan back into the match on the day, and that was exactly what they needed to secure three points at the Sardegna Arena. AC Milan sits seventh in Italy’s top flight through 21 matches, 23 points behind Napoli.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Inter Milan 1-1 Roma
Udinese 1-1 SPAL
Sassuolo 1-1 Torino
Sampdoria 3-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 3-0 Benevento
Hellas Verona 0-3 Crotone
Atalanta 0-1 Napoli