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Club Brugge named champions as Belgium votes to end season

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Club Brugge have been named the champions of Belgium as clubs voted to end the 2019-20 season with European spots and one relegation for Waasland-Beveren also confirmed.

The decision has long been coming after clubs and the league agreed in April to end the current campaign without further games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, after a lengthy delay an official vote only took place on May 15 and clubs decided to name Club Brugge champions and settle the rest of the table by leaving it as it was. Club Brugge will now be in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season, while Gent will be in the UCL third qualifying round and Charleroi will be in the Europa League group stage.

Antwerp will join the Europa League in the third qualifying round and Standard Liege in the second. Genk and Anderlecht finished in seventh and eighth respectively and miss out on European qualification. Club Brugge were 15 points clear at the top with one game of the regular season to go, as the Belgian league then splits into a top and bottom half playoff format for the remainder of the season.

The decision to award a champion and end the season with the table as it is is different from other leagues around Europe, as in France’s Ligue 1 they decided to use a points-per-game to end the 2019-20 season due to the French government postponing professional sports until September. The Dutch government also stopped pro sports, even in empty stadiums, until Sept. 1 but the Dutch Eredivisie decided to cancel the season as no champions were declared and no promotion and relegation was permitted.

As for Italy, Spain and England, all three aim to restart their top-flight leagues in June, while the Bundesliga in Germany is of course returning to action this weekend.

All of these countries in Europe are so close to one another geographically but given the different situations in each nation due to the coronavirus pandemic, leagues are coming to very different decisions.

Report: Sheffield United in ‘advanced talks’ for $22M Norway star

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Sheffield United is ready to add one of the game’s brightest young talents to its blossoming Premier League side.

Norway midfielder Sander Berge is the name, and he’s been linked with Liverpool amongst others over the past few months.

Berge turns 22 next month and already has 20 caps for Norway in addition to 113 senior appearances for Genk in Belgium and 43 more for Valerenga in his home country.

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The defensive midfielder has chipped in six goals and four assists. He won the Belgian Super League with Genk last year and has a career-best four goals so this season.

It shows what success brings to a club, as Sky Sports reports that Berge turned down a move to Bramall Lane in the summer.

The fee is said to be $22 million, which isn’t small but completely reasonable given his stature for club and country.

This may move may join the Lys Mousset purchase as one of the Blades’ smartest bits of business, especially as Chris Wilder‘s men look for success on multiple fronts. Their success as a newly-promoted side is one of the great stories of the European season, and a place in Europe would be a fantastic achievement.

From The Yorkshire Post:

“It is going well, no doubt about it,” Wilder said. “On the Premier League front and in the Cup. You probably would not think it, but the win at Millwall has given me an enormous amount of pleasure in confirming, not even seeing, what my team is about. Players have come in with the likes of the skipper (Billy Sharp) and other players who are really driving it forward and want to produce individual performances and the atmosphere is good.”

Watch our transfer deadline day show from 6-8 p.m. ET on Jan. 31, live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com.

Aston Villa gets its man in prolific Tanzanian captain Samatta

Aston Villa signs Tanzanian captain
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Aston Villa has captured its center forward, signing Tanzanian national team captain Mbwana Samatta in its bid for Premier League safety.

Samatta turned 27 last month and has 51 caps with 18 goals for Tanzania. He’s ineligible to play for Villa when it hosts Watford on Tuesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online on NBCSports.com).

The fee is reported as $13 million.

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“I’m so excited. It’s a huge step for me and my career. For all the people from Tanzania, it’s a big step for the country as well. Everybody is so on it, they are looking to see one Tanzanian guy who can play in the Premier League. Here today I’m him, and I’m so happy.”

The striker scored 26 times last season for Genk, and has 76 goals for the club since arriving in 2015. He scored against Liverpool and twice versus Red Bull Salzburg in this season’s Champions League group stage.

He spent time with Congolese club TP Mazembe and Tanzanian side Simba SC before that.

Villa’s 22 points are back of the Premier League’s safe spaces, and the Midlands club is a win away from the League Cup final. The semifinal second leg at Leicester City takes place Jan. 28.

LIVE, UCL: Salzburg v. Liverpool, Napoli v. Genk

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Crunch time has arrived in the UEFA Champions League.

And particularly in the Group finale as Red Bull Salzburg host Liverpool in a straight shootout to reach the last 16. Napoli host Genk in the other game in the group as the Serie A side need a point to secure their spot in the knockout rounds, but things get pretty complicated when it comes to the permutations for Jurgen Klopp and Jesse Marsch and their respective teams.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However, if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss). Still with me?

There are sure to be plenty of twists and turns ahead as Marsch’s young side almost stunned Liverpool in the return game as they eventually lost 4-3. Goals are a guarantee in Salzburg with Erling Haaland a goalscoring machine (the teenager has eight in his first five UCL games) and we all know about Liverpool’s attacking prowess. The runaway Premier League leaders will need a few early goals to settle their nerves though.

Both games kick off at 12:55 p.m. ET and you can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.

It will be a tense occasion for the final 90 minutes of the group stage.

Liverpool beat Genk to go top of Group E (video)

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It wasn’t pretty and it was hardly dominant, but Liverpool took care of business and beat Genk 2-1 in the two sides’ UEFA Champions League clash at Anfield on Tuesday.

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After going 1-0 up through Georginio Wijnaldum in the 14th minute, Liverpool were hit back just before halftime and went into the intermission with plenty of questions to be answered. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain put the Reds back ahead with a clever turn and finish in the 53rd minute, and Liverpool only grew stronger from there.


Three things

1. Finishing the game, not chances: The first-half display was one of Liverpool’s least convincing of the season thus far — not bad, per se, but certainly not the mark of future Premier League champions nor a side looking to repeat as European champions. The second half was a different story, though, as Jurgen Klopp‘s side was far more assertive and in control of the small moments which cost them plenty in the first half. Mohamed Salah might have scored once or twice on another day to make the final score far more comfortable. There were plenty of chances to go around, but the finishing touch was lacking on the day.

2. A rare mistake defending a set piece: At this point, it feels just short of an end-of-the-world disaster Liverpool to concede a goal from a corner kick, given how aerially dominant they have been since the start of last season. It’s a high defensive bar they’ve set for themselves — both from open play and on set pieces — so virtually no one expected Genk to draw level like this, just a few minutes before halftime.

3. On the other hand…: This makes eight straight games (all competitions) in which Liverpool have conceded a goal. The last time they went that long without a clean sheet, the year was 2014 and Brendan Rodgers was the manager. On the bright side, they have conceded just once in six of those eight games; the other two saw Red Bull Salzburg score three and an Arsenal B-team score give (against Liverpool’s backups). We’re not at What’s wrong with the Liverpool defense? yet, but it’s certainly something to remember and keep an eye on going forward.


Man of the match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

With Napoli drawing Salzburg in Group E’s other game on Tuesday, Liverpool now sit top of the group with nine points from four games. Nothing has been decided yet, though, as Liverpool still host the Italians and visit the Austrians in the final two rounds of group play.