Thomas Vermaelen

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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.

Transfer rumor roundup: Matic close to United deal, West Brom want defender

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Chelsea appears set to lose one of its key pieces in the midfield from a season ago, while West Bromwich Albion is keen on a former Premier League defender to bolster its back line in 2017/18.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The Blues will likely lose holding midfielder Nemanja Matic over the coming days as Manchester United’s continued interest in the Serbian has ramped up.

A picture has surfaced online of Matic wearing a United top, although there is no confirmation as to whether or not the photo has been altered.

The Red Devils have already had a successful summer in the transfer market, securing big deals with Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof as manager Jose Mourinho enters his second season at Old Trafford.

However, the Sun is reporting that a deal with Chelsea is being held up by a discrepancy over bonus payments that would be paid to the Blues.


Sky Sports is reporting that West Brom is seeking a move for Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen, who previously spent time in the PL with Arsenal.

The Belgium veteran has struggled to crack the Barca XI in his time at the Camp Nou, and spent last season on loan at Roma.

[ MORE: Man United planning massive bid for Bale next summer ]

The report also states that Crystal Palace has expressed interest in the 31-year-old.

Jeremy Mathieu in jeopardy of missing Euros after meniscus tear

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Coming off of a convincing 4-2 victory over Russia on Tuesday, France did receive some bad news from the match.

[ MORE: Frenchman Dimitri Payet scores beautiful long-range free kick ]

Barcelona defender Jeremy Mathieu, who entered the game in the second half, lasted only eight minutes, after sustaining a knee injury.

[ MORE: Gary Neville sacked by Valencia after poor run of form ]

The Blaugrana have confirmed that the 32-year-old’s injury is a torn meniscus and that he will undergo an operation on Thursday.

France has already lost one defender this year due to injury in Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma, so another extended injury could really hurt the team’s backline ahead of this summer’s 2016 European Championship.

This season, Mathieu has started 12 matches for the league leaders. The loss of the Frenchman could be critical in Barcelona’s run at a treble, given their lack of options at left back. While Jordi Alba has been ruled fit enough to play in this weekend’s El Clasico vs. Real Madrid, the Catalan side lacks depth behind Alba and Mathieu.

Thomas Vermaelen could see an increased role down the stretch depending on the length of Mathieu’s absence. The former Arsenal defender has primarily played as a central defender throughout his career, however, he is versatile enough to fill in on the wings if necessary.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Madrid clubs cruise; Juve loses again

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Catch up on all of this weekend’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.

Real Madrid 5-0 Real Betis

After a disappointing scoreless draw to open the season, Real Madrid got back on track with a 5-0 thrashing of Real Betis. Gareth Bale scored two goals and Karim Benzema added one as well, but the man of the match was James Rodriguez. James assisted on Bale’s first, buried a brilliant free kick, and scored on a bicycle kick, creating a personal highlight reel in just 90 minutes.

Sevilla 0-3 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid is yet to concede a goal through two matches, defeating Sevilla 3-0 to remain unbeaten and unscored upon. Koke put Atletico ahead in the first half before Gabi had a shot deflected past the keeper to double the lead in the 78th minute. Jackson Martinez sealed the win with beautiful strike from distance, the Colombian’s first goal for the club since joining from Porto.

Barcelona 1-0 Malaga

Barcelona failed to score a goal against Malaga and took just one point from two matches last year, but squeaked out close 1-0 victory over the South coast side this weekend. Thomas Vermaelen was the surprise goalscorer for the defending European champs, as the former Arsenal center-back fired home a volley with less than 20 minutes to play to take all three points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 3-1 Espanyol
Real Sociedad 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Celta Vigo 3-0 Rayo
Eibar 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Valencia 1-1 Deportivo
Las Palmas 0-0 Levante
Getafe 1-2 Granada

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Paul Pogba
Juve has lost the opening two matches of a season for the first time in club history.

Roma 2-1 Juventus — MORE

After losing three matches all of last season, Juventus has opened up the new campaign with two straight losses, falling to Roma 2-1 earlier today. Goals from Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko downed Juve, who were forced to ten men when Patrice Evra was sent off in the second half. Far from a dream start for the team that was a win away from the treble last season.

AC Milan 2-1 Empoli

Summer signings Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano both scored for AC Milan, as the Rossoneri got their first Serie A win under Sinisa Mihajlovic. Depsite the result, the new manager was not pleased with his side’s performance, saying “The result is the only thing to salvage, nothing else. I saw the players too tense and frightened. Courage and personality was lacking from my players. We won, but I feel like I have lost.” Harsh words after taking all three points.

Napoli 2-2 Sampdoria

Maurizio Sarri has yet to find a win as Napoli manager, after losing to Sassuolo last week and drawing Sampdoria this weekend 2-2. Gonzalo Higuain scored twice in the first half to give Napoli a 2-0 lead, but Sampdoria striker Eder scored two goals in two minutes in the second half to climb back for a draw.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Carpi 1-2 Inter Milan
Bologna 0-1 Sassuolo
Udinese 0-1 Palermo
Torino 3-1 Fiorentina
Chievo 4-0 Lazio
Atalanta 2-0 Frosinone
Genoa 2-0 Verona