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Third UEFA competition important despite “little commercial value”

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MADRID (AP) A third European club competition will have “little commercial value,” European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli said Monday, but it will still be important for smaller teams seeking to increase their exposure.

The 32-team yet-to-be-named competition is being discussed with UEFA for 2021 and beyond. It would be played in addition to the Champions League and the Europa League.

“It’s difficult to see commercial value when you look at a third-tier competition because there is very little commercial value, but sometimes we have to listen to our fellow club members who want to participate more,” Agnelli said at a soccer conference in the Spanish capital. “The fact that they are participating in international games would allow them to grow and showcase their players going forward.”

The Juventus president said there were initial discussions about expanding the Europa League from 48 teams to 64, but the consensus was that it would ultimately hurt the second-tier competition which already “struggles” commercially compared to the Champions League. The solution was to reduce the number of clubs in the Europa League and have all three European club competitions played with 32 clubs.

Agnelli also said making adjustments to the new international calendar that will begin in 2024 is “the first thing we have to tackle” as European clubs.

He said clubs would like to see all the confederation tournaments being played at the same time every four years, on even years, to help free up vacation time for players.

“We have to think of a moment where players can have a proper four-week rest period,” he said. “And I’m saying this in the interest of all. Players are exceptional, but they are not machines. Football players are like Formula One cars, if you actually use them too much, they just break.”

FIFA has been leading talks to discuss the new calendar and issues such as the continental championships and when clubs must release players for national team duty.

Agnelli also said it would be ideal to limit the potential maximum number of games for clubs to 43 per season.

“I want to make sure we are well heard when we craft the next international match calendar,” he said. “The clubs are the ones that truly invest and take the risks.”

Serie A: Lazio, Napoli roll while Roma falls again

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AS Roma’s early-season struggles continue as they fell to Bologna on the road 2-0, their second loss of the year through five matches. Bologna had not yet scored through four matches, blanked by Inter, SPAL, Genoa, and Frosinone coming in. Federico Mattiello somehow broke the duck in the 36th minute as his left-footed curler somehow got through traffic into the bottom-left corner. Federico Santander added another on the hour mark, and Roma lost for the second time in the last three, without a win since the opening week of the season.

Roma head coach Eusebio Di Francesco was furious after the game, lighting his players up for lacking passion. “You all seem to think you know the answers, so maybe I should ask you questions? We always end up talking about numbers, statistics, but not the determination and fire in the belly,” the 49-year-old Italian said to Sky Sport Italia after the match. “If you have 74 percent possession and lose 2-0, it means something is missing in your attitude. If you lose every duel with Bologna, then you weren’t determined enough.”

Juventus grabbed a late victory as new star Cristiano Ronaldo bagged an 81st minute winner in a 1-0 victory over Frosinone. The former Real Madrid forward latched onto a flubbed shot by Miralem Pjanic and buried the chance. Ronaldo had been denied earlier in the match, with the shot first slowed by a diving Marco Sportiello before the ball was eventually cleared off the line by Marco Capuano. It’s a solid comeback moment in Ronaldo’s return to the field after his controversial sending-off in Champions League play during the week.

Elsewhere, Napoli visited Torino and won 3-1 in Turin behind a double from Lorenzo Insigne, giving the 27-year-old four goals on the young season. The first came just four minutes into the game on a terrible mistake by the hosts, with an attempted clear Emiliano Moretti clattering off his central defensive partner Nicolas N’Koulou and falling right into Insigne’s lap for him to smash into the top-left corner. Simone Verdi bagged his first Napoli goal in the 20th minute, and Insigne killed off the game past the hour mark with his second, putting Napoli up by a pair. The result leveled Napoli on points with leaders Juventus, with the defending champions yet to kick off ahead of their eventual win.

Lazio also won big, putting four past Genoa for a 4-1 victory. Felipe Caciedo struck just seven minutes in, and Ciro Immobile did the rest with a brace. Rising star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic added Lazio’s fourth with a long-range header, pulling Lazio into fifth place with nine points through five matches.

AC Milan was pegged back by a very late strike, forced to accept a 2-2 home draw with Atalanta. Milan held a 55% possessional advantage and an eventual 17-15 shot advantage, but Atalanta halftime substitute Emiliano Rigoni scored in the 91st minute to even the score. A ball whipped into the box pinged its way to Duvan Zapata, who slashed a powerful volley on net that was acrobatically saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the rebound fell right to Rigoni on the doorstep who couldn’t miss.

Watch Live: West Ham United vs. Chelsea

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Chelsea returns from Greece for a London Derby at West Ham United on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The 5-0 Blues are looking to keep pace with 6-0 Liverpool, and kept some stars home from the Europa League. Fresh for the tilt are Eden Hazard, David Luiz, and Mateo Kovacic.

West Ham is hoping to build on its first win of the season, which was inspired by Andriy Yarmolenko and Marko Arnautovic. The former starts, but the latter is not fit for the 18.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Fabianski, Zabaleta, Balbuena, Diop, Masuaku, Rice, Obiang, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Antonio. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Fredericks, Ogbonna, Sanchez, Snodgrass, Lucas.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Rudiger, Alonso, Jorginho, Kante, Kovacic, Willian, Hazard, Giroud. Subs: Caballero, Cahill, Zappacosta, Moses, Fabregas, Barkley, Morata.

Spanish federation withholds approval of match in U.S.

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BARCELONA, Spain — The Spanish league’s plan to play a regular-season match in the United States was put in serious doubt Friday after the national soccer federation refused to give its approval, according to a person with knowledge of the decision.

The person told The Associated Press that the federation sent a letter to league officials withholding its authorization of playing of a competitive match between Barcelona and Girona on Jan. 26 in suburban Miami unless certain conditions are met. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

According to the person, the federation told the league it has failed to show that the overseas match would comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts, and that it would not harm the other 18 league clubs and the fans of Girona and Barcelona.

The federation requested more documentation from the league on the proposal, but the person with knowledge of the situation told the AP that it believed the “holes” in the league’s proposal are “insurmountable.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Spanish league president Javier Tebas said he still hopes to hold the match in Miami.

“The game is still on,” Tebas said. “We believe we are right, and we will try to show that to the relevant authorities. We are going to respond to everything they say and we will keep working.”

Tebas said that the match was critical to increasing the league’s global reach and rivaling the richer Premier League in England.

“This match is very important in our strategic plan in the United States,” Tebas said. “I can assure you that we are not going to just accept that they tell us no.”

Tebas did not explain what possible options the league could have of circumventing the federation’s refusal, other than convincing federation president Luis Rubiales to change his mind.

Besides the Spanish federation, the match would also need to be approved by the U.S. soccer federation, plus continental bodies UEFA and CONCACAF.

The league asked the federation for authorization to play the match last week.

The refusal by the federation was first reported by Spanish radio station COPE.

While the Spanish league manages the country’s two top divisions of men’s teams and the women’s league, the federation is the official governing body that sets the rules and regulations for all soccer played in the country.

The Spanish players’ union and some fans have been critical of the plan to play competitive matches abroad.

Even though FIFA’s permission is not mandatory, president Gianni Infantino also expressed his doubts about the game earlier this week when he said that he would “prefer to see a great MLS game in the U.S. rather than La Liga being in the U.S.”

The Spanish league has never played a match in another country, but the Spanish federation held its season-opening Super Cup abroad for the first time in August. Barcelona beat Sevilla in Tangier, Morocco.

The league’s plan to play games in the United States is part of a new 15-year partnership with sports and entertainment group Relevent, which operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played during the European offseason in July and August around the world.

Spain FA to oppose La Liga match in US

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The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is the  latest organization to put the kabosh on La Liga’s plan to take their game abroad.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joining with FIFA, the RFEF will reportedly not approve Barcelona’s match at Girona being moved to Miami on January 27 of next year. The RFEF are expected to make their view public on Friday, per Cadena Cope. Its the latest blow to the previously announced 15-year deal between Relevant Sports and La Liga, which on its face claims to be a marketing rights deal but in practice would include taking league matches outside of Spain. The decision to move games abroad has been panned by fans and media across the globe, with players in Spain’s top two divisions also making their frustrations known.

In order for a match to take place abroad, it needs approval from all the associations governing the sport in the countries involved, a process that makes it seem very unlikely it will happen any time soon. Ultimately, it appears it will take a serious political effort on the part of Relevant Sports to get FIFA, the RFEF and U.S. Soccer to all agree to something that may not pay immediate dividends to those associations.

For Soccer fans in Miami, they’ll likely have to wait until Barcelona’s next preseason tour of the U.S. to see the Blaugrana, or take a trip to Spain themselves.