Valencia 2-0 Barcelona: Inspirational Maxi Gomez sinks Quique Setien’s side despite penalty miss

Maxi Gomez scores for Valencia

Valencia’s Maxi Gomez scored one and created the other to shoot down Barcelona in LaLiga on Saturday.

Maxi Gomez atoned for an early penalty miss and fired Valencia to a rare 2-0 LaLiga home win against Barcelona, handing Quique Setien his first defeat as head coach.

Valencia came into Saturday’s clash having beaten Barca in just one of their past 10 meetings in all competitions, winning last season’s Copa del Rey final, while their most recent league success at the Mestalla came in February 2007.

But the Blaugrana were on the back foot from the outset this time around and, while Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved a first-half spot-kick, Gomez made amends as his strike shortly after the restart went in off Jordi Alba for an own goal.

Setien’s side belatedly rallied, but after scraping past Granada and Ibiza in the coach’s first two games in charge, their luck ran out, Gomez getting a goal himself with 13 minutes remaining.

Real Madrid, not in action against Real Valladolid until Sunday, now have the opportunity to pull three points clear of their bitter rivals at the top of the table.

 

Gerard Pique gifted Valencia a huge opportunity to take the lead after 12 minutes, his poor clearance prompting an attack that ended with the Barcelona defender clumsily chopping down Jose Gaya inside the area.

However, Ter Stegen came to his team-mate’s rescue, brilliantly springing to his left to save Gomez’s penalty.

Ter Stegen remained by far the busier of the two goalkeepers and awkwardly helped Gomez’s fierce drive onto the crossbar before parrying Kevin Gameiro’s follow-up wide.

Barca did not truly threaten until the opening seconds of the second half when Ansu Fati ran onto Lionel Messi’s pass on the edge of the area but shot just wide.

It was Valencia who soon led as the off-colour away side struggled to clear, allowing Gomez to shoot hard and low from the right-hand side of the area, his effort deflecting off Alba to wrong-foot Ter Stegen and loop into the roof of the net.

Messi drilled past the right-hand post and sent a lob narrowly over the top, before Jaume Domenech was equal to a 20-yard free-kick as Barca’s spell of dominance came too late to rescue a result.

Instead, Gomez got his goal, providing a clinical finish beyond the rooted Ter Stegen at the end of a Valencia counter-attack.

What does it mean? Concerns for Quique

Despite the narrow nature of the scoreline, there was an enormous amount of goodwill for Setien when his reign began with a win over Granada. But less than a week later, things are a little less rosy. Barca scarcely deserved the late victory in Ibiza and were completely outplayed here, provoking some early questions for the new coach.

Gomez makes amends

Valencia forward Gomez has now scored or assisted in five of his past six LaLiga appearances against Barcelona. He was at the centre of his side’s best work throughout. After missing a penalty, the Uruguay international was unfortunate to strike the crossbar when Ter Stegen’s handling was uncertain but then had a hand in each goal.

Pique so poor

Barca stalwart Pique did not start well, giving away a penalty, and hardly improved from there. Ter Stegen had to be alert to gather on the line, preventing a potential own goal, and then Pique failed to clear effectively in the build-up to the first goal.

Key Opta Facts

– Lionel Messi had the joint-most shots without scoring in a LaLiga game for Barcelona (11).

– Barca have conceded 25 goals in LaLiga this season. They have not conceded as many goals at this stage since 2003-04 (26 goals) when they were second at the end of the season.

– Barca’s Gerard Pique has conceded two penalties against Valencia in his LaLiga career, more than versus any team. However, none of those penalties have been converted.

– Marc-Andre ter Stegen saved his first penalty for Barcelona in LaLiga (seven penalties faced).

What’s next?

Valencia go to Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, hoping not to follow Atletico Madrid in crashing out at the hands of the minnows. Barcelona host Leganes in the same competition the following day.

Year of the eagle! Wu Ashun celebrates Chinese New Year with Dubai charge

China’s three-time European Tour winner Wu Ashun held a four-shot lead at one stage but heads into the final round in Dubai ahead by one

Wu Ashun took advantage of a “happy Chinese New Year shot” as he seized the lead after the third round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The 34-year-old from China has three previous wins on the European Tour and gave himself hope for a fourth as a five-under-par 67 secured a one-shot lead.

Wu led by four at one stage, after successive birdies at 10, 11 and 12, but a dropped shot at the 16th and no further gains left him 11 under after 54 holes and allowed the field to close in.

Frenchman Victor Perez moved to one behind as he matched Wu’s 67, while Englishman Tom Lewis scorched to a 65 and shared third place on nine under with Americans Kurt Kitayama and Bryson DeChambeau, who posted 68 and 70 respectively.

Eddie Pepperell fell from first place overnight to sixth on his own after a level-par 72.

Wu must have had an inkling it would be his day when his second shot at the first, out of the rough, cleared the greenside bunker and zipped across the green and straight into the hole for an eagle.

 

He picked up a shot at the third too, chipping in to seize the lead, before the streak of birdies after the turn looked like making it a procession.

It was not that way in the end, but Wu nevertheless heads into the final day at the top of the leaderboard.

Asked about his stroke of fortune at the first, Wu said: “That’s like a happy Chinese New Year shot. The first hole, and the second shot’s unbelievable for me, for a very good start. I was very happy.”

The chip-in at three also had Wu celebrating.

“I’ve been working hard on my short game, but some days you get lucky and can chip from everywhere,” he said in a European Tour interview.

“You get a good feeling and I got the good feeling today.”

Going into the final round, Wu hopes his experience as a multiple winner on tour will influence the outcome.

“That is always good experience,” he said. “So I feel very, very comfortable and very relaxed for playing the final round.”

 

Australian Open 2020: I respect Rafael Nadal, but it doesn’t mean we like each other – Nick Kyrgios

Ahead of their huge fourth-round Australian open clash, Nick Kyrgios discussed his thoughts on upcoming opponent Rafael Nadal

Nick Kyrgios believes a layer of respect exists between himself and Rafael Nadal but would not go as far as saying he likes the world number one ahead of their Australian Open meeting.

After both players won their third-round matches on Saturday, they will do battle in the pick of the fourth-round ties on Monday.

Nadal cruised to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 win over fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, while Kyrgios overcame Karen Khachanov 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (6-8) 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (10-8) in an incredibly close contest lasting four hours and 26 minutes.

Kyrgios on triumphing over Khachanov in thriller and facing Nadal next

Kyrgios has won three of his seven meetings against Nadal in a rivalry that stepped up a gear at last year’s Mexican Open when words were exchanged after a match the Australian won.

After his straightforward win in Melbourne, Nadal said he was unsure whether he likes the 24-year-old, though conceded his involvement in the sport can benefit the ATP Tour.

When it was Kyrgios’ turn to face reporters, he referenced the duo’s battle at Wimbledon last year, which Nadal won in four close sets.

“Last time I played him was at Wimbledon,” said Kyrgios. “We had a pretty good match, 7-6 in the fourth set.

“At the end of the day, we’re two different tennis players. We go about it completely different. After Wimbledon, I lost, I got beaten by the better player.

“I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Too good’. Regardless, if we don’t like each other or whatever, I think there’s a layer of respect. He’s one of the greatest of all time.

“I also read that he thinks I’m good for the sport. There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other, but we’re going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.

“I don’t really know Rafa. I’ve never hung out with him or anything like that. So I don’t really know how he is. I don’t really dislike him. I don’t know him at all. Hell of a tennis player. Don’t know him as a person. I’m sure he’s okay.”

 

Kyrgios believes Nadal will have a physical advantage after having an easier route through to the last 16 but is not overly concerned, also saying his hamstring is better after he felt it against Khachanov.

He added: “Physically I think I’ll be fine. I have a whole day off [Sunday]. Get some rest after this, do all the right things. I’m super excited honestly. Playing one of the greatest tennis players on center court at your own slam, it’s pretty damn cool.

“I’ve got a lot of time between now and then. Obviously it’s going to be another physical battle.

“Nothing comes easy with him. He had a relatively routine match, so he’s going to be feeling good. I’m looking forward to it. That’s why you play, I guess.”

 

Kyrgios has a 2-1 record against Nadal on hard courts, and continued: “Ever since juniors I enjoyed playing lefties.

“I feel like I kind of know what game plan I need to bring to be successful against them.

“Rafa is a different beast altogether. I kind of know his patterns. Everyone knows his patterns, can’t do anything about it. Federer knows his patterns. Everyone knows his patterns. He executes them at the highest level.

“I feel good. Like I feel like my game is ready to go. But it was crazy [against Khachanov]. I don’t think the emotions have died down at all.”

 

Angel Di Maria buoyed by Tuchel’s faith at Paris Saint-Germain

Angel Di Maria celebrates with Thomas Tuchel

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has been influential in giving Angel Di Maria the confidence to rediscover his form.

Angel Di Maria intends to see out his career in Europe at Paris Saint-Germain, hailing Thomas Tuchel for being influential in what he believes has been his best season.

Di Maria has been in sensational form in 2019-20, scoring 10 goals in all competitions and providing a division-high eight assists in Ligue 1.

It could easily have been different for Di Maria, who has confirmed he was debating leaving PSG in 2018 before a talk with Tuchel convinced him to stay at the Parc des Princes.

The 31-year-old is out of contract in 2021 and, though discussions over a new deal have not yet begun, he hopes to end his time in European football with PSG before possibly returning to Argentina to see out his playing days.

“I haven’t spoken to anyone in the club [about a renewal],” said Di Maria.

“I am not really thinking about that now, I still have a year ahead of me. I am very confident. I keep working.

“I said that I want to end my career in Europe here at PSG and I am very happy here. Then, maybe I will see if I want to play in Argentina again.”

Di Maria added that Tuchel is one of the coaches who has had the most faith in him.

“He has shown me a lot of trust and has given me confidence. He talked to me in Barcelona before the World Cup in 2018,” he said.

“He really tried to convince me to stay at PSG and I think this is why I decided to stay. My family and I were feeling good.

“It has been hard because [former PSG coach Unai Emery] said I was going to play and I didn’t, which hurt as a player.

“But the coach gave me 100 per cent trust. I think I had a few coaches like that, they all gave me trust and this is a very nice thing.”

Tuchel, meanwhile, is thrilled to have a player of Di Maria’s quality at his disposal.

“It just works, I really like him. I have been watching him for a few years and at Real Madrid, I was a huge fan,” said the German.

“The way he is when he plays football, he is reliable, he doesn’t quit, he works for the team. He is the first one to arrive at the training centre. He is really competitive and tries everything to be decisive.

“He is working a lot and is a super professional, a great guy. We talked for the first time in Barcelona and for me, it was like a spark. Since the beginning, we found a chemistry.

“I am really happy that he changed his mind, that he stayed, gained confidence and he found his quality again because he is a really important player for PSG.

“He could play in every team in the world. Sometimes, you have to calm him down in order to avoid doing too much, but our relationship is great.”

Emergency at Inter! But Conte says rumours make it look like Nerazzurri are buying up Real Madrid stars

Inter boss Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte says Inter have three fit midfielders for their Serie A clash with Cagliari, with Ashley Young a candidate for an early debut.

Antonio Conte admitted Inter face a midfield “emergency” as he dismissed transfer talk as making it look like the club were “buying half of Real Madrid”.

Conte is considering giving new recruits Ashley Young and Victor Moses immediate debuts against Cagliari on Sunday, with Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud and Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen also thought to be targets.

With Marcelo Brozovic suffering an ankle injury in last weekend’s draw at Lecce, Antonio Candreva suspended and Valentin Lazaro loaned to Newcastle, Inter lack engine-room options for the San Siro clash.

The 1-1 outcome against Lecce has left Inter four points behind Serie A leaders Juventus.

Asked whether the confirmed new arrivals could figure, after Young signed from Manchester United and Moses was prised from Chelsea on loan, Conte stressed he would do whatever it takes to ensure Inter are competitive in midfield.

Young and Moses can both play as attacking full-backs or in wide midfield roles.

“Tomorrow we are in emergency,” Conte said in a Saturday news conference.

“We have only three midfielders. Candreva is suspended and Lazaro has left, meaning we will also need to make hasty decisions.

“However, as for the title we need to focus on ourselves. This is what we have to do at all times. We cannot worry about the other teams. Let us focus on ourselves and our job. I want us to keep improving. Let us keep up this enthusiasm.”

Eriksen was left out of Tottenham’s team on Saturday for the FA Cup game against Southampton, indicating he may have played his last game for former Inter boss Jose Mourinho.

Yet Conte has become bemused by media coverage of Inter’s pursuit of new players, telling reporters: “You make it seem that we’re buying half of Real Madrid.”

Conte outlined Inter’s transfer policy and said supporters should not expect Young and Moses to instantly become game-changers with the Nerazzurri.

 

“If we get cash then we will invest I think,” Conte said. “But I don’t think that is a surprise or anything strange. We want to strengthen this squad.

“[Chief executive Giuseppe] Marotta has been very clear on this matter. If we bring in two players, for instance, two will leave. But let us keep our feet on the ground.

“We cannot put too much expectation on the new arrivals. Young and Moses did not play much at their previous clubs so they need time to settle. Let us be patient and give them time.”

Criticism of Inter’s performance in the draw at Lecce rankles with Conte, who says his team cannot always play at their peak.

“Listen, it is simple,” he said. “We need to go at full pelt in every game.

“I know that is not always possible. During a season there are lots of games, so you cannot always give 110 per cent. It is normal to have an off day every now and then. That is football and it happens.”

Edinson Cavani and Layvin Kurzawa left out by PSG amid transfer speculation

Edinson Cavani and Layvin Kurzawa

With Edinson Cavani and Layvin Kurzawa both having been linked with leaving Paris Saint-Germain, neither will feature against Lille.

Edinson Cavani and Layvin Kurzawa will not feature against Lille on Sunday, with their respective Paris Saint-Germain futures uncertain.

Cavani has been persistently linked with a move away from Parc des Princes this month, with the 32-year-old – who has been injured for some of January – having fallen down the pecking order this season.

The Uruguay striker has handed in a transfer request, while PSG’s sporting director Leonardo confirmed a bid from Atletico Madrid has been rejected.

Full-back Kurzawa, meanwhile, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is reportedly of interest to Premier League side Arsenal.

Tuchel confirmed that, although both players are fit, neither will be available for Sunday’s trip to Lille.

“It is not decided yet. There are things between clubs and Kurzawa, but he is our player. We know that things are not clear yet, the situation is not clear,” Tuchel told a news conference.

“This is why he is not part of the group for Sunday, in order to manage the situation. We will see. It is the same with Edinson. He trained with us for a few days, no problems, but the situation is unclear and that is why he will not be available.

“It was the best decision. The situation with Kurzawa, it was very recent, a short amount of time, so I think it was useful for him to think and find a solution, and the we will keep going.

“For Cavani, it has been going for a few weeks, but he trained, he is not injured anymore. But still, we decided that he wasn’t available because the situation is unclear. Things might happen during the transfer window.”

While Tuchel insisted PSG’s focus remains on the Ligue 1 and Coupe de France matches the French champions have coming up, he was pressed for his thoughts on the dealings of his former club Borussia Dortmund.

The Bundesliga side, who are PSG’s opponents in the Champions League last 16, have brought in Erling Haaland – who has scored five goals in his first two appearances, both from the bench – while they have also been linked with Juventus midfielder Emre Can.

“I think they will not stop. They will buy one or two other players,” Tuchel said of Dortmund.

“So, it will be a very tough game against Dortmund, but it is like that. I think [the media] are the only ones always thinking about Dortmund.

“I didn’t talk to my staff or players about Dortmund. I am always only talking about Dortmund during the media conference, but we do not speak about Dortmund in the squad.”

Atletico Madrid is my life! – Diego Simeone determined to bounce back from Copa defeat

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone

Atletico Madrid are struggling, but Diego Simeone will leave no stone unturned in a bid to get his side back on track.

Diego Simeone is determined to turn Atletico Madrid’s fortunes around, explaining just how much the club means to him.

Simeone is enduring a tough spell at the Wanda Metropolitano, with Atleti losing their past three matches in all competitions heading into Sunday’s LaLiga clash with Leganes.

Real Madrid saw off their city rivals in agonising circumstances in a Supercopa de Espana final penalty shoot-out, but Atleti then came unstuck against more modest opponents: Eibar in LaLiga and third-tier Cultural Leonesa in the Copa del Rey.

Simeone insists the disappointing run of form does not come from a lack of interest on his behalf, though.

“I’m always thinking about my team,” he told a pre-match news conference. “I don’t think in the moments when we lose or when we win, but I always look after my team.

“Sometimes I can’t sleep thinking about the line-up for a final or because we lost, or when I don’t know which player to choose that will be better for the team.

“Atletico Madrid is my life – the people who know me know that. We will keep the same path, with enthusiasm and passion.

“We live in the present and we go match after match and nothing will change in my life. We’ve been doing it for a long time now.”

 

Simeone accepts there was always likely to be a certain amount of criticism following recent results, but he retains belief in his side.

“It is clear that we are coming from two difficult defeats,” he said. “All the criticism may seem fair, but I am convinced and I believe in my players.

“We have a great team with players who will respond to goals that we have set, and I do not change from match to match. We are convinced of what we want and we will not change in that sense.

“I understand and accept when the criticisms are fair and work accordingly to have a good game [on Sunday].”

Simeone still appears to have the support of Atleti fans, who launched a campaign showing their love for the coach on Twitter with the hashtag “#TeQueremosCholo”.

“I had not seen it until the press people told me,” Simeone said. “Everything natural like that is appreciated.

“It boosts the security and enthusiasm that I always have in the day-to-day at the club.”

Atleti look set to be without defender Santiago Arias against Leganes after initial tests showed he suffered a muscle injury in his left thigh against Cultural.

Christian Eriksen travels with Spurs but left out of squad as Inter move nears

Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen

A move to Inter appears to be edging closer for Christian Eriksen, who was left out of the Tottenham team to face Southampton.

Christian Eriksen travelled with Tottenham but was not included in the matchday squad to face Southampton as a move to Inter appeared to edge closer.

Denmark international Eriksen will watch Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round clash at St Mary’s from the stands after being left out by Jose Mourinho.

The attacking midfielder is expected to undergo a medical with Inter on Monday, with Spurs having reportedly accepted an offer of an initial €15million (£12.6m) and €5m (£4.2m) in add-ons.

Eriksen, who will be out of contract at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at the end of the season, has reportedly agreed a four-year deal with the Serie A giants.

Pablo Mari arrives in London ahead of expected Arsenal move

Pablo Mari in action for Flamengo

Arsenal appear to be closing in on their first signing of Mikel Arteta’s reign, with Pablo Mari set to arrive on loan from Flamengo.

Flamengo defender Pablo Mari arrived in London ahead of an anticipated move to Arsenal.

Mari is expected to join the Gunners on loan with an option to buy – which is reportedly set at £7.5million – after arriving at Heathrow Airport with Arsenal technical director Edu on Saturday.

The 26-year-old is set to become Mikel Arteta’s first signing since taking over as head coach in December.

Mari joined Manchester City in 2016 but never played for the first team, leaving for Flamengo last July after loan stints at Girona, NAC Breda and Deportivo La Coruna.

The 26-year-old was a key figure under Jorge Jesus, who led the Rio de Janeiro giants to the Campeonato Brasileiro and Copa Libertadores titles.

He also featured when Flamengo lost the Club World Cup final against Liverpool 1-0 after extra time.

Arsenal have been keen to bolster their defensive options following injuries to Calum Chambers, Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac.

Maurizio Sarri admits Juventus job could be his last as he relishes return to Napoli

Juventus boss Maurizio Sarri

Maurizio Sarri returns to his former club Napoli with Serie A leaders Juventus on Sunday, and the veteran boss has given a retirement hint.

Maurizio Sarri has indicated he could retire from football at the end of his Juventus reign.

The former Chelsea boss is in his 30th year as a coach and has arguably reached the highest point of his career by taking charge of the Italian champions.

As he prepares Juventus to tackle his former team Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Sunday, Sarri revealed he may not look for another job in the future.

Asked whether he could see himself ever returning to Napoli, the 61-year-old told reporters: “After this experience I could even quit: it depends on what energy I have left and if I think I can do well again. These aren’t things I’m thinking about at this moment.”

But when asked again if he would not stay in coaching until the age of 70, Sarri, who signed a three-year deal with Juventus in June 2019, said it would depend on whether he still felt challenged by the game.

“Pressure is a false myth: external pressure must not influence you, but if your motivation is lost then it is better to stop,” Sarri said.

“I don’t know if at the end of my contract with Juventus I will be the same Sarri: if yes, I will continue. Otherwise, no.”

Sarri’s Juventus lead the way in Serie A, possessing a four-point cushion over second-placed Inter heading into the weekend.

He twice led Napoli to second-placed finishes and is puzzled by the Naples side’s struggles this season.

Sitting 11th in the table before the 21st round of fixtures, the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti and appointment of Gennaro Gattuso as head coach in December has yet to bring about a significant turnaround in fortunes.

A Coppa Italia victory over Lazio in midweek may mark a turning point or prove a blip in a difficult campaign.

Sarri, though, thinks Napoli are a better unit than their results suggest.

He said: “Napoli are a strong team that even in difficult moments can be dangerous in a one-off game. They have a position that doesn’t reflect their performance. And they will have great motivation.

“Napoli have changed from Ancelotti to Gattuso. They are working to improve their solidity because they remain ever dangerous in the attacking phase.”

He added: “For me, it’s clearly a special game, but you shouldn’t spend your energy on a personal point of view when the collective goal is what matters: to bring home the three points in a difficult match.

“It is true that Napoli’s position is strange, because they are first in terms of ball possession and have other excellent statistics, but they haven’t obtained the points that reflect what they have done so far.”

Title rivals Inter are looking to bring in Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen from Tottenham, but Sarri appears unflustered by the prospect of the Nerazzurri strengthening with such an acquisition.

“Certainly he is a player of great stature,” said Sarri. “But from here to think that he can change the balance of a championship, that is a next step.

“And we don’t care: we have to focus only on ourselves, knowing we are competitive.”

I’ll always defend my Madrid players – Zinedine Zidane stands by Gareth Bale

Zinedine Zidane has defended Gareth Bale

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has no issues with Gareth Bale, who will miss Sunday’s clash with Real Vallodolid due to injury.

Zinedine Zidane insists Gareth Bale is not a trouble-causer at Real Madrid, with the coach adamant he will always back his players.

Bale has become a target of vitriol from Madrid’s fans and sections of the Spanish media in recent seasons, with the Wales forward – who has also struggled with injuries – having often fallen down the pecking order.

The 30-year-old also incurred the wrath of the local press and Los Blancos support when he celebrated with a flag bearing the message “WALES. GOLF. MADRID… IN THAT ORDER” following Wales’ qualification for Euro 2020.

Having scored in Madrid’s 3-1 Copa del Rey win over Unionistas de Salamanca on Wednesday, Bale will not be available for Sunday’s LaLiga encounter with Real Vallodolid due to an ankle injury.

But, when asked why he has defended the player in the past, Zidane stated he has no issues with Bale, who has scored just three goals this season.

“I always defend my players. It’s not that I need to. They train every day, they work hard and want to defend the Real Madrid badge,” Zidane told a news conference.

“So I don’t share the same opinion. It’s true he’s had a few injuries but you can’t do anything when a player is injured.

“Hopefully he can string together more games, a few training sessions, get minutes under his belt and get back into playing and training at the same pace as his team-mates.

“When he is fit we want him to come back and be in good shape. It is a shame. He is not happy because he wants to be training with the side.”

Zidane also refuted the suggestion Bale had exaggerated his injury as to not play against Vallodolid.

“I am always worried when a player is injured, it’s something I don’t like to see,” Zidane said.

“I have 25 players here and it is tough to me because I have to pick a side, but I don’t want players injured. Gareth’s injury isn’t serious, a slight sprain and he’ll be back soon.

“You’re entitled to think what you want, but when I am with the player, I have spoken to him and he wants to be with the team and wants to play, but the other day he suffered a slight injury.”

Another Madrid player who is recovering from injury is Eden Hazard, who has returned to individual training. However, Zidane was unable to confirm if the Belgium international would be fit to feature against Atletico Madrid on February 1.

“I can’t confirm a comeback date as he has just started training with the ball. There is very little or no pain there now,” Zidane said.

“He will no doubt improve and hopefully be back with the team soon. It is excellent for the player to be able to train with the team, it’s good for his morale and confidence, but I can’t confirm a date.”

Australian Open 2020: Pliskova, Svitolina crash out as Halep eases through

Karolina Pliskova was sent crashing out of the Australian Open

More seeds were sent crashing in the Australian Open on Saturday as Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina suffered straight-set defeats.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova and fifth seed Elina Svitolina were high-profile casualties in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.

Pliskova fell to a straight-sets defeat to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svitolina was soundly beaten by two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza.

Belinda Bencic and Donna Vekic were also sent packing, losing to Anett Kontaveit and Iga Swiatek respectively.

Highlights – Yulia Putintseva vs Simona Halep

There was no sign of a slip-up from former world number one Simona Halep, however, as she made serene progress to the next round by easing past Yulia Putintseva.

 

PLISKOVA, SVITOLINA CRASH OUT

After defending champion Naomi Osaka and 23-time grand slam winner Serena Williams were eliminated on Friday, Pliskova joined the star duo in dropping out of the tournament.

Pliskova went down 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-3) to 30th seed Pavlyuchenkova in the first match on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.

 

“I think she was playing very well. Maybe the best she played against me so far in the last couple matches,” Pliskova told reporters. “But let’s say I was [at] about 40 per cent of my game, so of course then she can feel so much better if I just don’t play enough [of] what I can play.

“That’s how it is. I think especially [in] the important moments she always served well so I had a couple chances here and there. But I think she just played better than me.”

Svitolina did not fare much better as she lost to Muguruza in 67 minutes, the Spaniard – now ranked 32 in the world – hitting 31 winners to advance 6-1 6-2.

 

BENCIC, VEKIC SENT PACKING

It was another tough day for seeds as Bencic (6) and Vekic (19) failed to progress beyond the third round in Melbourne.

US Open semi-finalist Bencic was swept aside in just 49 minutes, humbled 6-0 6-1 by 28th seed Kontaveit on Margaret Court Arena.

“I think every grand slam there are seeded players losing, so I think this grand slam was even the best because no top-10 player lost in first round,” she said in a news conference. “It’s the same at every grand slam. There are upsets, and I think it’s normal, because it’s tennis, and tennis is very unpredictable.”

Kontaveit will face Swiatek after the 18-year-old stunned Vekic 7-5 6-3.

HALEP, KERBER MOVE ON

Halep thwarted in-form Putintseva 6-1 6-4 to move through to the second week of the slam for a third consecutive year.

Fourth seed Halep – runner-up in Melbourne two years ago – needed one hour, 18 minutes to progress to the fourth round.

 

Away from Rod Laver Arena, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber ground out a 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi.

Kerber was pushed but the three-time major winner clinched a spot in the fourth round for the fifth successive season after two hours, eight minutes.

MERTENS AND BERTENS ADVANCE

Next up for Halep is 16th seed Elise Mertens, who required three sets to overcome CiCi Bellis.

Mertens was two points from victory in the second set after taking a 5-4 lead in the tiebreak but failed to close it out. However, she managed to keep her run alive by reeling off the next six games in succession.

The 2018 semi-finalist breezed through the final set to wrap up a 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-0 victory in just under two hours.

Joining Mertens in the next round was Dutch ninth seed Kiki Bertens, who made the second week of the Australian Open for the first time.

Bertens claimed a 6-2 7-6 (7-3) victory over Zarina Diyas and has a meeting with Svitolina’s conqueror Muguruza to look forward to.

Australian Open 2020: Kyrgios comes through five-setter to book Nadal clash

Nick Kyrgios fell to the floor after beating Karen Khachanov

Despite taking a medical time-out with a hamstring injury in the first set, Nick Kyrgios beat Karen Khachanov in five to face Rafael Nadal.

Nick Kyrgios emerged triumphant in a dramatic five-set clash with Karen Khachanov despite struggling with a hamstring injury, booking a highly anticipated meeting with Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the Australian Open.

After passing up match points in the third and fourth sets, home favourite Kyrgios came out on top in the longest match of his career by beating Khachanov 6-2 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (6-8) 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (10-8) at a raucous Melbourne Arena in four hours, 26 minutes.

Nadal ‘doesn’t care’ about Kyrgios Rafa impression

Top seed Nadal beat fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 6-2 6-4 in one hour, 38 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, while US Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev overcame Alexei Popyrin 6-4 6-3 6-2 and will face Stan Wawrinka in the last 16.

The Swiss advanced after John Isner retired while 6-4 4-1 down, with Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils joining him in round round four.

CROCKED KYRGIOS CLINGS ON

Kyrgios started confidently against Khachanov and, despite taking a medical time-out at 5-2 up in the first set, managed to edge a second-set tie-break while continuing to grip at the back of his leg.

However, he was unable to repeat the trick at the second time of asking and became increasingly frustrated as the Russian wrested control of the match away from him.

 

Kyrgios appeared to be struggling for motivation at points and became increasingly vocal, but he hung in to take the victory to the delight of his fervent supporters.

The Australian has a strained relationship with Nadal, who he described as “salty” after their meeting at last year’s Mexican Open and impersonated after being called for a time violation while serving against Gilles Simon in round two.

Asked about going up against the 19-time major champion in his on-court interview, Kyrgios said: “Whatever happened between us he’s an amazing player. I’m not even thinking about that right now, I’m thinking about my legs and getting them in an ice bath and getting some food.”

NO STOPPING NADAL

Nadal was at his imperious best against Carreno Busta, winning 87 per cent and 78 per cent of points behind his first and second serve respectively, while also smashing 41 winners – twice as many as his opponent.

“It was my best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt. Big difference between today and the previous days. I have been serving well, starting to create damage with the forehand,” said Nadal.

“Every day is a different story. But, of course, it’s important to make steps forward. It’s clear that today I made an important one.”

Asked if he likes Kyrgios, Nadal said: “I don’t know. I don’t know him personally, honestly, to have a clear opinion.”

RUBLEV ROLLS ON

Rublev started 2020 with titles at the Qatar Open and Brisbane International and has continued his fine form at Melbourne Park.

The world number 16’s 2-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 7-6 (7-4) triumph over David Goffin was his 15th match win in succession, four of which came in the Davis Cup Finals.

Rublev had wobbles after taking big leads in both tie-breaks, but Goffin made 27 unforced errors in the last two sets to help the Russian progress to a meeting with Zverev.

 

Seventh seed Zverev is yet to drop a set at Melbourne Park after overcoming Fernando Verdasco 6-2 6-2 6-4.

“IT’S A DISGRACE”

After beating qualifier Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-3 to set up a fourth-round meeting with Dominic Thiem – who overcame 29th seed Taylor Fritz 6-2 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 – Monfils refuted a report claiming excessively playing video games led to him suffering a hand injury.

“You know, as I say, it’s misunderstanding with people. I say this in a funny way, to be honest, but it’s a disgrace, to be honest with you, because I’m fine,” Monfils told reporters in a news conference.

“I’m in the second week, playing great tennis. I think it’s just someone who, I don’t know, try to — you know, I played ATP Cup, was fine. I practiced here for one month. I was really fine.

“I never said I was hurt. Somehow, you know, playing PlayStation, this? Come on. And it’s easy, because I think I’m a good name to make up good story like that. Now you know.”

 

 

Real Madrid loan Hugo Vallejo to Deportivo La Coruna

Deportivo La Coruna loanee Hugo Vallejo

Hugo Vallejo joined Real Madrid from Malaga earlier this week and has been sent straight out on loan to Deportivo La Coruna.

Real Madrid have loaned Hugo Vallejo to Deportivo La Coruna, two days after signing the teenage winger from Malaga.

The 19-year-old is believed to have officialy joined Madrid on Thursday and has been sent straight out to Segunda Division side Deportivo for the remainder of the season.

Deportivo announced the news on their official website and confirmed Vallejo, used five times by fellow second-tier side Malaga this term, is in contention for their trip to Albacete on Sunday.

Fernando Vazquez’s side have struggled this season and are down in 20th place, but they have strengthened their squad with five new signings in January.