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  • January 16, 2024
  • 23°

Premier League Soccer

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Lionel Messi has landed another prestigious award in soccer but the Argentina star needed a tiebreaker with Erling Haaland to win FIFA’s best men’s player prize on Monday. He has national team captains to thank. The voting breakdown showed Messi and Haaland with 48 points each. The tiebreaker was whoever had more “5-point” scores from the votes of national team captains. That category was 107 to 64 for the Inter Miami forward. Neither player showed up at the awards ceremony. Kylian Mbappé, the third finalist, skipped it too. World Cup champion Aitana Bonmatí showed up — and cleaned up. The Spain playmaker was named FIFA’s best women’s soccer player.

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Everton could be facing another costly punishment for breaking the Premier League’s financial rules. The competition says both Everton and Nottingham Forest are being referred to an independent commission after breaching its profitability and sustainability regulations. The league’s rules allow clubs to lose a maximum of 105 million pounds ($133 million) over a three-year period or face sanctions. The teams could be punished with a fine or a points deduction, applied this season as part of a fast-tracked process. Everton has already received a record 10-point deduction for its overspending in the three-year period up to the end of the 2021-22 season.

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Saudi Arabia has revealed designs for a high-tech stadium atop a 200-meter high cliff near Riyadh where the kingdom plans to stage games at the 2034 World Cup. The 45,000-seat venue design has a retractable roof and field, plus an LED wall with hundreds of meters (yards) of screens. The Qiddiya Investment Company says the stadium will create an immersive experience for fans. It will be named Prince Mohammed bin Salman Stadium for the crown prince of the oil-rich kingdom. It's part of the Qiddiya City project 30 miles from downtown Riyadh. Saudi Arabia is FIFA's only bidder for the men's 2034 World Cup.

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Jim Ratcliffe sat beside Alex Ferguson in the directors’ box at Old Trafford and took in a Manchester United game in person for the first time since agreeing a deal to buy a 25% stake in the boyhood club. He hopes to restore it as a major power but the rebuilding job is going to take some time on the evidence of the 2-2 draw with Tottenham in the Premier League on Sunday. The match underlined the current state of United. It is a team capable of stunning isolated passages of play but is in general ragged and often outplayed by its rivals. Aston Villa was held 0-0 at Everton in the day's other match.

It took Kevin De Bruyne less than five minutes to show why his return from injury could be so crucial for Manchester City in the second half of the Premier League season. Five months after having surgery on a hamstring injury, De Bruyne came off the bench to score the equalizer and set up an injury-time winner for City in a 3-2 win at Newcastle on Saturday. Oscar Bobb’s winning goal handed Newcastle a fourth straight league loss and Eddie Howe’s team is now behind Chelsea, which climbed into eighth place with a 1-0 win over Fulham.

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The financial strength and spending of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar has changed the soccer landscape in Asia but long-time eastern powerhouses Japan and South Korea are determined to redress the continental balance on field. The Asian Cup starts Friday in Qatar. Japan, the continent’s highest-ranked team, has won its last 10 games and is favorite to clinch the Asian title for a fifth time. Three-time winner Saudi Arabia has European Championship winning coach Roberto Mancini at the helm. There is more pressure than usual on the ‘Green Falcons’ this tournament because of the heightened attention on the Saudi domestic club scene since the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema.

Manchester United has avoided becoming the highest-profile casualty in the third round of the FA Cup by easing past third-tier Wigan with a 2-0 win. Portugal internationals Diogo Dalot and Bruno Fernandes scored United’s goals at DW Stadium to set up a match in the last 32 against either Newport County or Eastleigh. They are also lower-league teams. United reached the FA Cup final last season before losing to Manchester City. It had lost four of its previous six games in all competitions but produced a dominant display against a team that was last in the Premier League in 2013. That was the same year Wigan won the FA Cup by beating City in the title match.

It has been a slow start to the January transfer window in the Premier League but expect that to change pretty quickly. Deals are being mooted, speculation is starting to fly, sought-after stars like Kylian Mbappé and Ivan Toney have chosen to talk about their future to the media. One transfer seemingly set to happen is Germany forward Timo Werner to Tottenham. Jordan Henderson is being linked with a return to the Premier League after failing to settle in Saudi Arabia. Chelsea could well be a big mover in the window after manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke of the need for reinforcements.

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Arsenal’s alarming problems in front of goal have been further exposed in a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in a heavyweight FA Cup match. An end-to-end third-round contest was settled by two late goals. There was an own-goal by Arsenal defender Jakub Kiwior in the 80th minute and a stoppage-time strike by Luis Diaz. Arsenal has now lost four of its last seven matches in all competitions. The team has failed to score in three of those defeats. Unlike Arsenal, Manchester City looks in prime shape heading into the second half of the season. City's 5-0 win over second-tier Huddersfield in the FA Cup was notable for the return from injury of Kevin De Bruyne after nearly five months out.

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have FA Cup fever just like their soccer club Wrexham. The Hollywood stars were watching from their homes in the United States as Wrexham won 1-0 at local rival Shrewsbury in the third round of the famous competition. The Welsh club will find out on Monday its opponent in the last 32 and there’s a good chance it will be a team from the Premier League. That would excite Reynolds and McElhenney. They bought Wrexham for $2.5 million in 2021 and have made the club the subject of popular fly-on-the-wall TV documentary “Welcome to Wrexham.”

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Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are three years into their unlikely ownership of Welsh soccer club Wrexham and their enthusiasm is far from fading. “Deadpool” star Reynolds sends text messages to players after games, posts on social media after the team's matches and says his love for Wrexham is “indescribable.” There seems an unstoppable momentum in the team too. Wrexham won the fifth-tier National League last season and now is making a push for promotion from fourth-tier League Two. The team has a break from league play this weekend when it plays local rival Shrewsbury in the FA Cup. The buzz around Wrexham and its celebrity ownership reached new levels during a cup run last year.

As the New Year begins so does the countdown on Kylian Mbappé’s future. It promises to be a nervous start to 2024 for Paris Saint-Germain and its fans as speculation about their prolific striker is set to intensify. Mbappé began this season in a transfer standoff with his club after not taking up the option of a 12-month extension into 2025. It means that starting Jan. 1 he can openly talk to other clubs or even sign a pre-contract agreement with long-time suitor Real Madrid or Premier League leader Liverpool. Mbappé's contract runs out in June when he can leave the French champion for free having joined for 180 million euros (now $199 million) from Monaco.

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