UEFA Champions League

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No Champions League could lead Lacazette from Arsenal

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Alexandre Lacazette could leave Arsenal if the Gunners fail to win a place in the UEFA Champions League.

So says a report out of The London Evening Standard, which notes that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid would be interested in bringing the Frenchman to La Liga.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

Arsenal will participate in next season’s Europa League unless it beats Chelsea in this season UEL Final on May 29 in Baku.

Lacazette, 27, has 19 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal this season and struck up a tremendous partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has not played in the Champions League since 2016-17.

Arsenal is being linked with a big attacking target, too, and is said to be intrigued with Ajax boss Marc Overmars comments that Hakim Ziyech will be allowed to leave if his $28 million release clause is met. From The Evening Standard:

“He is in focus because of his achievements in the Champions League. Many big clubs are buzzing around him, We promised Hakim that we would agree if there is a good transfer,” Overmars told the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper.
Ziyech has played his entire career in the Dutch Eredivisie between Heerenveen, Twente, and Ajax. He has 12 goals in 23 caps for Morocco and scored five times for Ajax in the Champions League to go with 16 league goals.

Pep: Domestic treble harder than winning Champions League

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Manchester City won its third tournament of the season on Saturday, battering Watford 6-0 at Wembley Stadium to add an FA Cup to its League Cup and Premier League titles.

[ RECAP: Man City 6-0 Watford ]

In doing so, City is the first club to win a domestic treble. Manager Pep Guardiola wants to win every competition he enters, but said winning all three is extra special.

“I love the Champions League but it is more difficult to do what we have done than to win the Champions League,” Guardiola said.

Wait, what?

From ManCity.com:

“It’s not easy being there every three days. We lacked a little bit of energy but it’s normal. It’s been so tough this week. We could not have had more energy but we kept it at the right time.”

Well, that makes sense. Whereas Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp risked less with his cup lineups, knowing his desire for the Premier League and Champions League, Guardiola’s lineups were aimed at winning everything.

And that’s largely why they’ve done it. City might’ve needed penalty kicks to beat Chelsea in the League Cup Final and a John Stones clearance to win the Premier League (or a Vincent Kompany thunderbolt), but the treble is impressive.

Simeone to face tough challenge without Griezmann, Godin

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MADRID (AP) More than ever, Diego Simeone will be put to the test as Atletico Madrid coach.

Simeone will begin next season facing the difficult challenge of keeping Atletico competitive after the departure of its biggest star, Antoine Griezmann, and other players who have been key to the team’s success in recent years.

He will also be without captain Diego Godin and defender Lucas Hernandez, and most likely will have to deal with the absence of players such as Juanfran Torres and Filipe Luis, who could be announcing their departures in the coming weeks.

Simeone will suddenly find himself having to put together a team without his core players, making his upcoming offseason work crucial to keep Atletico in contention for the top titles in European football.

The hardest player to replace will be, by far, Griezmann, the forward who last year won the World Cup with France and finished third in the Ballon d’Or vote for world’s best player.

Simeone has constantly talked about Griezmann’s importance for Atletico, saying he is the player who sets the tone for the team in attack. He is among the few indisputable starters, having scored more than 130 goals in five seasons at the club.

Simeone appeared to be caught by surprise by Griezmann’s decision, saying a few days ago he didn’t fear losing the player in the upcoming transfer window.

“Simeone is disappointed, like everybody else,” Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told Radio Marca. “But (Griezmann) had made up his mind and there was no way to convince him otherwise.”

Griezmann had a contract with Atletico until 2023 with a reported buyout clause of 200 million euros ($224 million), but the clause will be automatically reduced to about 120 million euros ($134 million) this offseason. Griezmann did not say where he will be next season, but Atletico rival Barcelona was reportedly among the front-runners to sign the Frenchman.

Atletico’s attacking chores will fall on the recently signed Alvaro Morata and the veteran Diego Costa, who endured a season marred by injuries and lackluster performances. Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Nikola Kalinic are the other options for Simeone up front, with Angel Correa and Saul Niguez remaining as his attacking midfielders.

The defense is where Atletico has thrived over the years, but this time the changes will be significant, especially in the absence of Godin, who came to the team before Simeone arrived at the end of 2011. The 33-year-old Uruguayan defender, who is expected to join Inter Milan, has played 388 matches in nine seasons for Atletico, helping the club win the Spanish league, two Europa Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups, a Spanish Super Cup, and a Copa del Rey.

Hernandez is on his way to Bayern Munich next season, while both fullbacks, Torres and Filipe Luis, are not expected to renew their contracts. Simeone faces revamping nearly the entire defense. Jose Gimenez will likely remain as a central defender along with youngster Francisco Montero, while Santiago Arias will take over the right back position.

The midfield may not escape unscathed either, as there are rumors about offers from top clubs for young midfielder Rodrigo “Rodri” Hernandez, who arrived this season and immediately became a regular starter. Staying in the team will be Thomas Lemar, Partey Thomas and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion, who should gain a greater role within the squad as a veteran, along with goalkeeper Jan Oblak.

The entire team, including Griezmann, on Thursday practiced for Atletico’s final game of the season at Levante on Sunday in the Spanish league. Atletico has pride to play for as it has already secured a second straight runner-up finish in the league.

The final whistle will mean time to rest for most, but for Simeone, the work will be just starting.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Ref who gave Man Utd PK at PSG to work Liverpool-Spurs UCL final

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says Damir Skomina will be the referee for the Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal ]

Skomina has handled four Champions League games this season, including Manchester United’s 3-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain.

The 42-year-old Slovenian will officiate the final at the Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on June 1.

[ SEASON REVIEW: Man United, Wolves, Everton, Leicester, West Ham ]

Skomina also refereed the Europa League final in 2017, when Man United beat Ajax, and the 2012 Super Cup, which Atletico Madrid won over Chelsea.

He worked three games at last year’s World Cup and showed the fastest red card, sending off Colombia defender Carlos Sanchez for a handball in the fourth minute against Japan.

Serie A: Inter Milan pick up massive win in UCL race

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan took a crucial step towards securing Champions League football by beating 10-man Chievo Verona 2-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: Guardiola, Man City cement their spot in history ]

Inter moved back into third spot in Serie A, a point above Atalanta, which occupies the final Champions League qualifying berth.

Crucially, Inter was four points above AC Milan and Roma with two matches remaining.

Matteo Politano opened the scoring shortly before halftime and Ivan Perisic, who earlier hit the post, sealed the result after Chievo midfielder Nicola Rigoni was sent off for a second booking.

Last-placed Chievo had already been relegated.

[ MORE: Top 10 Premier League goals of the 2018-19 season ]

Bologna all but achieved Serie A safety with a 4-1 win over 10-man Parma, which is in danger of getting sucked back into the relegation dogfight.

Bologna was helped by two own goals, including from Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe, who kept his side in the match early on with three sensational saves.

Parma defender Francisco Sierralta scored the other own goal late on.

Parma captain Bruno Alves was sent off with his team trailing 2-0 after he was showed a second yellow card for his reaction after being booked for a foul.

Bologna moved five points above the relegation zone and two above Parma.