Kyle Bonn

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Vidal tells Dembele he must ‘mature’ to reach Barcelona potential

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32-year-old Arturo Vidal has been playing for Champions League contenders nearly his entire career, and with 501 first-team professional appearances plus another 113 international caps, younger talent would be wise to listen to his advice.

Even the advice that might be hard to hear.

Vidal came down hard on his 22-year-old Barcelona teammate, saying the French international “has to mature” and “become aware of what he really wants in life.”

Dembele arrived at Barcelona as a highly-touted young Borussia Dortmund talent in the summer of 2017 for a hefty $140 million fee. In his two years at Barcelona thus far, Dembele has yet to truly grasp a first-team place thanks to injuries and inconsistent form. Vidal believes an improved attitude could help Dembele become a true contributor.

“Ousmane is a football player who has a crazy talent,” Vidal told French publication L’Equipe. “When he reaches maturity, he will be an important player for Barça and for France. But, clearly, he has to mature. Listen to his body, be better prepared to avoid injuries. If you want to be the best, you should get up, eat and go to bed thinking about football. I think Ousmane will realize at some point that he has to do more.”

Those are harsh words from a teammate, but Vidal may be onto something. Dembele has been the subject of many stories regarding his personality, from the distancing of his mother to a possible video game addiction. Former Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel called him “a little crazy.” He is reportedly late to everything which has cost him a significant amount of money.

“I talk to him a lot. He is a good boy and he is the first to want to be the best. He arrived at Barça at age 20, without much experience. Ousmane must become aware of what he really wants in life, know where he plays and who he plays with. But I think I see an evolution. It must continue like this.”

Dembele has just three league appearances this season thanks to a hamstring problem, and was sent off in his last appearance against Sevilla before the international break. He remains one of the brightest young talents in the European game, but is slowly creeping towards consideration as a bust if he can’t put together a good run in the Barcelona first team and help the club kick into a new gear.

Premier League preview: Crystal Palace v. Man City

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  • Crystal Palace has earned four points in their last 3 PL games v. MCFC
  • Crystal Palace has 3 clean sheets in 4 home PL matches this season
  • Sergio Aguero has not scored in 6 PL matches at Selhurst Park

With Liverpool set to face Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal in the next three matches with Champions League play sprinkled in, now is the time for Manchester City to pounce.

Pep Guardiola leads Man City to Selhurst Park with a hefty eight point distance between them and the Reds atop the Premier League table, looking to make a dent in the differential as they face Crystal Palace on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET live on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Crystal Palace v. Manchester City ]

Kevin De Bruyne has been on fire despite his injury troubles, with eight assists in league play this season, double anyone else in the league. Unfortunately, the Man City defense has not followed suit, with the squad banged up and conceding twice to Wolves before the international break and recording just three clean sheets this season. The nine goals they’ve conceded thus far is triple what they allowed through the first eight matches of last season – in fact, it took them until a Week 16 loss to Chelsea to concede nine league goals.

Now, they face an in-form Crystal Palace side challenging for a European place to begin the season, having won its last two and four of its last six. They have been excellent at home, going unbeaten in four this season in league play. They aren’t dominating teams, but they’re earning results and sit sixth in the table with 14 points. What’s more, they’re doing all this without stalwart defender James Tomkins, who struggled with a groin injury early in the season and has suddenly found his place in the squad snatched up by Martin Kelly and Gary Cahill who are performing well together at Selhurst Park.

Roy Hodgson has instilled a culture of consistency at Crystal Palace that has allowed the club to not just earn results against teams they should beat but also challenge for points against the best squads in the league week in and week out.

Injuries/suspensions

Crystal Palace: OUT – Mamadou Sakho (groin), Connor Wickham (ankle).

Man City: OUT – Aymeric Laporte (knee), Leroy Sane (knee). QUESTIONABLE – John Stones (thigh), Benjamin Mendy (thigh).


Projected lineups

Crystal Palace: Guaita; van Aanholt, Cahill, Kelly, Ward; McArthur, Schlupp, Milivojevic, Kouyate, Zaha; Ayew.

Man City: Ederson; Zinchenko, Otamendi, Stones, Walker; Fernandinho, De Bruyne, David Silva; Sterling, Aguero, Bernardo Silva.


What they’re saying

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson on Raheem Sterling: “The criticism that could be leveled at him then and was, much to my displeasure because I would see him playing well, the big thing for Raheem is that there’s no draining his confidence, and no doubts. He’s playing in a team that creates a lot of chances so he gets in the right positions. His maturity, not just as a Manchester City player, but shouldering a very heavy burden with the racism and the attention that is being paid to the racism problem that we have. He has been a spokesperson.”

Man City boss Guardiola on Roy Hodgson: “I think since Roy took over the team [Palace] with zero points and helped them to avoid relegation, they have always made a really good season. They have incredibly talented players. Of course I admire him. He has the patience and love. It’s incredible. You have to have a lot of energy every day and he is there.”


Prediction

Manchester City has a loaded squad with reinforcements on the way in John Stones and Benjamin Mendy. Stones in particular is a massive addition, and if he is indeed fit to play, his presence gives this squad new life at the back. Still, Crystal Palace is as formidable a mid-table side as any in the Premier League and will be hungry to prove they mean business challenging for Europe this season. It will be a hard-fought grind, but Man City walks away with a quality 1-0 victory behind a goal from Raheem Sterling.

Premier League preview: Everton v. West Ham

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  • West Ham is unbeaten in 6 away PL games, 1 off club record
  • Everton has scored just 1 second half goal this season
  • West Ham has not scored in 4 of past 6 PL meetings with Everton

Everton manager Marco Silva looks to cool his scorching hot seat and pull the Toffees out of the relegation zone as they host West Ham on Saturday morning, live on NBCSN at 7:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

[ WATCH LIVE: Everton v. West Ham ]

With just seven points through the first eight matches of the season, Everton sits 18th in the Premier League table and has a hard choice to make about Silva’s job status should they continue to stumble. The club has scored just six goals thus far, third-worst tally in the league. Silva’s biggest job is to shore up the defense, but not far behind is returning Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson to their peak attacking form. The pair have just two goals and two assists in Premier League play between them, and none in their last three games. Sigurdsson especially has been a complete disaster, leaving Moise Kean completely on an island up front, still yet to open his goalscoring account. Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been more willing to chip in with his two goals, but it still hasn’t been enough.

They match up against an in-form West Ham side that lost before the international break to Crystal Palace but before that had gone six matches unbeaten, including three straight clean sheets against Norwich City, Aston Villa, and Manchester United. The Hammers sit eighth in the table with 12 points, just two points off the top four.

The purchase of striker Sebastian Haller was highly praised over the summer, and he has already paid dividends with four goals in league play. With Felipe Anderson in good form supporting the attack, the Hammers are a danger up front, especially for an Everton defense left without protection after the departure of Idrissa Gueye. Still, the loss of in-form goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski hurts, and they’ve given up three goals in three halves of play without him so far.

Injuries/suspensions

Everton: OUT – Seamus Coleman (suspended), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (thigh), Cenk Tosun (groin). QUESTIONABLE – Fabian Delph (hamstring).
West Ham: OUT – Lukasz Fabianski (thigh), Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring).


Projected lineups

Everton: Pickford; Digne, Mina, Keane, Sidibe; Schneiderlin, Delph, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison; Calvert-Lewin.
West HamRoberto; Fredricks, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Rice, Noble, Anderson, Lanzini, Yarmolenko; Haller.


What they’re saying

Everton manager Silva on not panicking: “We are together in this situation. One month ago, before the first international break, we were in sixth position and in a good moment. I am the first one to take responsibility but it is good to see the players take it as well.”

West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini on attacking mentality: “I think that we are where we deserve to be. I am very pleased with the style of football. We scored a beautiful goal against Crystal Palace, we are making chances and trying to score, we play the most amount of time in the opposite half, we have more shots on target. The fans deserve to have our style of football and we will not change that whether we are winning or losing.”


Prediction

Everton is in a bad place, but there’s too much talent on that squad to continue like this…right? West Ham is in good form but lost before the international break and isn’t impenetrable. Everton will score a goal (surprise!) and secure a 1-1 draw that’s enough to postpone Marco Silva’s departure at least another week.

El Clasico postponed amid fears of unrest in Catalonia

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After days of speculation, Barcelona and Real Madrid have seen next weekend’s meeting at the Camp Nou officially postponed. La Liga announced Friday morning that the fixture had been pushed back thanks to fears of civil unrest in Catalonia.

Nine Catalan political leaders were arrested on Monday and put in jail for past efforts towards securing Catalan independence, leading to days of protests. The Camp Nou has been a popular location for pro-Catalan political displays and banners, and it was feared that the high profile sporting event would be a focal point for unrest following the arrests.

Reportedly, the new proposed date is December 18, which slides the match in between a congestion of games just before the league-wide holiday break. Both teams have league matches on December 15 and December 22, with each side visiting opponents on the former and playing at home on the latter. The Spanish federation has given the clubs until Monday to officially agree on a new date.

At least 96 people have been injured in protests that have continued for the last five days across the region, with many turning violent in clashes with police.

The separatist leaders were jailed specifically for their roles in a 2017 Catalonia referendum that featured a 43% voter turnout and a 90% backing for independence. The Spanish court system ruled the referendum illegal after its conclusion.

Barcelona issued a statement on Monday regarding the ruling, saying “prison is not the solution.”

UEFA struggling to combat racism, but other parties chipping in

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UEFA has received untold criticism this week after the events on Tuesday that marred England’s qualifier in Bulgaria.

Everyone saw it coming – Gareth Southgate fielded questions before the match on what his team would do if the event of an incident, and a quarter of the stadium was closed thanks to previous occurrences. Yet when fans were pictured producing clear Nazi salutes and making monkey noises directed towards black England players, the game became secondary to the atmosphere and the on-field happenings became an afterthought.

The event had been well and truly marred.

Since, UEFA has done little except release a hollow statement and charged both teams – yes, both sides, including England – with violations stemming from the match in Sofia. Still, there is hope that future incidents can be both avoided and properly dealt with.

First, it appears the Bulgarian government is stepping in to act in the wake of Tuesday’s disgusting events. Bulgarian police have reportedly arrested 12 people with connections to the racist abuse and are investigating further, utilizing the country’s “protection of public order during sports events” laws that allow police to issue fines and bans. The fines reportedly amounted to $570 per person and each individual received a two-year ban from all sporting events in the country.

In addition, the Italian football federation announced that it would be implementing a specific stadium security review system to spot and punish racism. This comes in the wake of numerous incidents over the past few seasons that have gone unpunished thanks to a disciplinary tribunal determining the chants were not perceptible enough despite being heard both on television and on the pitch.

“It astonishes me that some chanting can be heard clearly and some cannot, so we need to work out why that is, but it is not normal” Italian federation chair Gabriele Gravina said. “I’m not interested in how loud or how much chanting there is but in the principle behind it. I’m not interested if it can be clearly heard or not. If it is just one, two or 10 people doing it, we need to intervene.”

Gravina says they are collaborating with the Ministry of the Interior as well as local police forces to not just use the technology but also follow through with sanctions and legal punishments once violations have been identified.

Still, UEFA continues to fall flat when it comes to punishing clubs and national federations that have repeated and widespread racism violations. It remains to be seen what UEFA will do with the events in Sofia, but recent events yet again show they are hardly interested in coming down with punishments that effectively motivate teams to care about stamping out racism.

For Wolves’ Europa League visit to Slovakian club Slovan Bratislava on Friday, a relatively simple loophole is set to be exploited to fill a stadium otherwise condemned to a closed-door policy for previous racism violations. Children under the age of 14 are permitted to attend closed-door matches for free, along with one required adult per 10 children, and Slovan is utilizing this policy to fill the stadium with an expected 21,000 fans despite the match officially to be played in front of an empty stadium. Thanks to the sanctions in place, Wolves only received 200 allocated tickets for the match, leaving their traveling support woefully undermanned against the massive home presence.

The Slovakian club was sanctioned for racist chanting in a home Europa League match against Greek side PAOK back in August, leading to a pair of closed-door matches. However, the club allowed 2,000 children in for their next home match against Besiktas despite the sanctions and is set to fill New Slovakia National Stadium nearly to its official capacity of 22,500. Other weak UEFA sanctions for racism include a total of $82,000 in fines and Slovan forced to display an “#EqualGame” banner.