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Champions league

I could have become best coach in the world at PSG

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Unai Emery thinks poor officiating and unlucky Champions League draws helped cost him the chance of being the world’s best coach at PSG.

Unai Emery believes he missed out on the chance to become the world’s best coach during his time at Paris Saint-Germain because there was no VAR.

The Spaniard won seven domestic trophies in two seasons in the French capital but left in 2018 after failing to mount a serious Champions League challenge.

In their first season under Emery, PSG thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the round-of-16 first leg only to suffer an astonishing 6-1 defeat in the return match at Camp Nou.

A year later, they reached the same stage of the competition only to lose 5-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid, who went on to lift the trophy for the third season in a row.

Emery thinks his fortunes as an elite-level coach might have been better had VAR been in existence for those ties.

“In Paris, I missed the chance to become the best coach in the world,” he told France Football.

“I won the league, four domestic cups and two Trophees des Champions. But the ultimate goal was the Champions League.

“The first year, in the round-of-16 against Barcelona, were played a really high-level first leg. In the return leg, we were knocked out because VAR didn’t yet exist. We were very clearly knocked out by refereeing decisions.

“The second year, against Real Madrid, we bowed to a team who recorded an historic hat-trick and, again, in the first leg, we could find fault with the officiating.

“To conclude: we lost the first time on refereeing decisions, and the second against the defending and future champions.”

 

The 4-0 win over Barca came despite Thiago Silva being left out of the starting line-up.

It was initially reported the Brazil centre-back had an injury but reports soon suggested his omission was more of a tactical decision.

Emery has now explained he had grown frustrated with the player for not following his instructions to hold a higher defensive line.

“I wanted the team to defend higher. Thiago Silva is a great player, but I wanted him to be higher and I couldn’t get him to accept that,” Emery said.

“I wanted him to get out of his comfort zone, to dare to defend higher so that the general pressure of the team on the opposition would be more effective. I worked with him to make him accept this, but I didn’t succeed.

“This characteristic of Thiago Silva’s game reflected on the whole team, which, under pressure, had a natural tendency to drop deeper.”

Despite a disappointing end to his two seasons in charge, Emery insists he always felt he had the backing of president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Indeed, the former Arsenal boss says it was left to him to convince Neymar of PSG’s plans ahead of his world-record €222million transfer from Barcelona

“I always felt supported by president Nasser,” he said. “For example, when we were about to sign Neymar, it was up to me to explain in person to Ney that we were going to build the team around him.

“With such a phenomenal player, you can’t tell him there is already a team there and that he will have to adapt. You have to create the team for him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t come – that’s for sure.

“The president and the directors discuss the contract, but it’s the coach who has to convince him of the game plan.”

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Champions league

Zidane issues update on Eden Hazard’s injury ahead of Manchester City clash

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With only a few hours left before Real Madrid take on Manchester City in the first leg of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League round-of-16, Zinedine Zidane has issued a worrying update on Eden Hazard’s injury.

Speaking in the pre-match press conference ahead of the Manchester City game, Zidane said that he is unsure if Hazard will play for Real Madrid again this season.

The former Chelsea star is set for a second injury lay-off this season, after fracturing his ankle during Real Madrid’s defeat to Levante in the La Liga last weekend.

The Levante game was only his second appearance for Los Blancos since November 2019, after he recovered from another injury to the same ankle.

Hazard’s injury and his subsequent lay-off is definitely a big blow for Zidane and co, as they gear up for a crucial week in both the UCL and the La Liga.

“He [Hazard] loves playing football and while I can’t tell you what is in his eyes, I can see he is not happy,” the Real Madrid boss said.

“It’s important he stays positive but, of course, it’s difficult. It’s a bad moment, it won’t be easy and he will feel like that for a while. I do not know if he will have to go through an operation. It is not my area and I don’t know if his season is over, but I hope not,” he went on.

“I am not the right person to say what should have been done or shouldn’t have.”

“We are not happy about his injury, it comes at a bad moment. He wanted to play and help us but now he is out again, which is sad of course,” the Frenchman added further, before concluding:

“I hope when he’s back again he is completely fit. That’s what everyone wants and that’s it.”

Quotes via Mirror.

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Dries Mertens suffers bruised ankle after equalling Napoli record

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Dries Mertens suffered a bruised ankle in the Champions League draw against Barcelona after equalling Marek Hamsik’s goalscoring record for Napoli.

Mertens scored his 121st goal for Napoli in all competitions on Tuesday as the Italian side drew 1-1 with LaLiga champions Barca in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

The 32-year-old forward matched the record with a stunning 30th-minute opener at Stadio San Paolo, where Barca salvaged a draw thanks to Antoine Griezmann approaching the hour.

Mertens, who leapfrogged Diego Maradona (115) into second place on the all-time list in October, was substituted in the 54th minute at home to Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.

 

Afterwards, Napoli released a statement which read: “Dries Mertens sustained bruising to his right ankle during a collision which forced him to leave the pitch early in the second half of tonight’s match against Barcelona.”

Mertens joined Serie A side Napoli from PSV in 2013 and the Belgium international has flourished.

Of Mertens’ 121 goals, 90 have come in Serie A, with another 26 via European competition.

This term, Mertens – who is out of contract at the end of the season amid links to the likes of Inter and Chelsea – has scored 12 goals across all competitions for Napoli.

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Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s birthday gift to Hansi Flick hints at Bayern Munich stay

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Karl-Heinz Rummenigge delivered a birthday present to Hansi Flick which suggested he will stay long-term as Bayern Munich coach.

Hansi Flick appears to have a long-term future as Bayern Munich head coach after a not-so-cryptic clue from CEO Karl-Heinze Rummenigge.

Bayern appointed Flick as interim boss following the dismissal of Niko Kovac in November and a month later announced he would stay in charge until the end of the season.

Under Flick, Bayern have returned to the top of the Bundesliga and a comprehensive 3-0 defeat of Chelsea in Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at Stamford Bridge means they have one foot firmly in the quarter-finals.

Flick celebrated his 55th birthday a day before Bayern’s fixture in west London and received a gift at a banquet after the game from Rummenigge, who hinted it was a sign of an extended stay.

“Our coach turned 55 yesterday [Monday],” Rummenigge said.

“This is a good age. We’ll give you a pen in this red packet. Sometimes you sign papers with pens.”

 

He added: “Stay how you are. We are very, very happy with how the team is playing, as well as with the results and the football they are playing.”

Bayern have lost just twice in the Bundesliga under Flick and sit one point clear of RB Leipzig after 23 matches.

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