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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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Champions league

Coronavirus: Cannavaro doubts European football will resume before season’s end

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Fabio Cannavaro – now in charge of CSL powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande – is not confident that football will resume by May.

Fabio Cannavaro believes it will be difficult for European football to return before the season ends amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sport has been brought to a standstill due to COVID-19, with Serie A, LaLiga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and the Premier League all on hiatus.

The Champions League and Europa League finals have also been postponed, with Euro 2020 pushed back to next year following more than 18,800 deaths worldwide – over 9,800 of the casualties from Italy and Spain.

Former Italy, Juventus and Real Madrid defender Cannavaro – now in charge of Chinese Super League powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande – is not confident that football will resume by May.

 

“In less than a month it is not known what is going to happen in the world,” the 43-year-old told COPE.

“I think it will take a long time for this to end in Italy and Spain.

“It will be difficult for European football to return before the season ends.”

Cannavaro has been based in China since joining Evergrande in 2014 before returning in 2017, while he was briefly in charge of the national team last year.

China has enforced strict measures to combat the spread of coronavirus, which originated in the country and has claimed more than 3,270 lives.

 

“The virus in Guangzhou is under control and life is beginning to go back to normal,” Cannavaro added. “There are no more restrictions, only 14 days at home.

“In two days, I finish my quarantine. All of us who come back have to do it.

“Staying at home is essential because we do not give the virus the opportunity to infect more people.

“We have to learn from China, they have more experience in this situation.”

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Champions league

Brilliant Leipzig shine uncomfortable light on Mourinho’s elite credentials

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Jose Mourinho’s time at the top table of European football looked done and dusted as RB Leipzig put his Tottenham to the sword.

As Tottenham’s Champions League dreams unravelled in line with Jose Mourinho’s drip-drip doomsaying, it was tempting to wonder how the Spurs boss might have talked up RB Leipzig’s chances were he in the stylish shoes of opposite number Julian Nagelsmann.

How could you expect success for a team looking to Manchester City’s third choice left-back, who was parachuted in as a loan January signing, for a chunk of their attacking threat?

And what about your star striker being unable to train for two weeks, cruelly robbing him of match sharpness?

Oh, that’s before you consider he must line up in a front three alongside a Paris Saint-Germain reject and a big money flop sent packing by Roma.

Of course, Angelino produced a rip-roaring display in this thumping 3-0 win to crown a 4-0 aggregate triumph – raiding relentlessly down the Tottenham right and setting up Marcel Sabitzer’s second of the evening after seeing a fit-again Timo Werner convert his earlier low cross from an offside position.

Had Werner entered this match with ideal preparation under his belt, he might have left Eric Dier marooned permanently in another dimension. Particularly before half-time, the Spurs defender needed every ounce of his commendable grit as the Germany striker tore into him repeatedly.

Dier’s attempt to clear Angelino’s cross that led to the third goal from substitute Emile Forsberg was that of a performer battered and broken by thankless exertions.

Alongside Werner, Christopher Nkunku and Patrik Schick were winning duals and shuttling with creative intent. You could not spot any lingering effect from the back-to-back draws domestically that have checked Leipzig’s Bundesliga title ambitions this month.

Theirs was a performance of purpose, belief and riotous swagger, at least until the final half an hour when they slowed the tempo and tightened the control, squeezing any last lingering drop of Amsterdam fuelled belief in the improbable from a forlorn Tottenham side.

Special legacy compounds ordinary present

Dayot Upamecano imperiously commanded the Leipzig backline, with the sort of performance John Terry or Marco Materazzi might have supplied in one of Mourinho’s great sides.

All the Special One has now are those special memories.

It really is remarkable how quickly this latest scene in the increasingly torturous third act of his career has reverted to recent type.

Mourinho gave a sparky, twinkle-eyed news conference on November 21 last year after he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino. Following three consecutive wins – albeit with six goals conceded – in all competitions – Tottenham were beaten by Manchester United on December 4.

Thirteen days. There ended a honeymoon period shorter than many honeymoons. Spurs did not win consecutive games again until another burst of three in a row at the start of February. They have not won since, with Leipzig extending this slump to six outings.

During this time, Mourinho has played the hits no one wanted to hear. Sure, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min’s injuries leave him significantly compromised in attack, but talent remains. Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura – the hero of that unforgettable Ajax comeback – are not woe-is-me no hopers.

To quote Alli in his interview to BT Sport immediately afterwards: “We can’t use that as an excuse, we still have quality on the pitch.”

No romance in tough love

Tanguy Ndombele has copped frequent public criticism, presumably because the tactic worked so well with Paul Pogba. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who clatters from one accident-prone 90 minutes to the next at the moment, should be grateful he isn’t a rangy and gifted midfielder. Mourinho really would be fuming then.

But even when the old tricks had lost their shine, Mourinho was still capable of putting together robust defensive outfits.

Tottenham have kept three clean sheets in his 26 matches in charge, with just Aston Villa (42) conceding more than their 37 during this period. Villa’s fellow Premier League relegation candidates Brighton and Hove Albion and Bournemouth are the only teams with fewer shutouts since Mourinho’s November appointment.

Don’t worry, though, because he’s a serial winner, trophies in every job. Well, roll on 2020-21 for that part of the dubious bargain after Leipzig followed Norwich City in making a mockery of supposedly favourable cup draws.

This man for the big occasion is without a Champions League knockout win since April 2014. All that remains is the top-four race in the Premier League. Tottenham are eighth and host a revitalised United on Sunday.

Nagelsmann’s brilliant Leipzig shone a blazing light on this uncomfortable body of evidence that begs an uncomfortable question concerning one of this century’s defining football figures: if you are a club with elite ambitions in Europe, why on earth would you ever appoint Jose Mourinho?

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Mourinho: No team in the world would cope with Spurs’ injuries

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Tottenham’s injury issues would be too much for the likes of Liverpool and Barcelona, Jose Mourinho said after their Champions League exit.

Jose Mourinho believes no team in the world would be able to cope with the injuries Tottenham have had to endure.

Tottenham limped out of the Champions League on Tuesday as they were beaten 3-0 by RB Leipzig in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

Errors from Hugo Lloris helped Marcel Sabitzer put Leipzig in command with a first-half double before substitute Emil Forsberg rounded off a 4-0 aggregate triumph late on.

It meant Spurs’ hopes of winning a trophy this season came to an end, and they also face an uphill battle to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Tottenham have been without Son Heung-min since February because of a broken arm, while a hamstring injury has kept fellow forward Harry Kane on the sideline since New Year’s Day.

Full-back Ben Davies missed the trip to Leipzig with a hamstring problem and Davinson Sanchez was also absent, with Spurs’ defence ran ragged by Leipzig on the counter.

Asked in his post-match media conference what problems beyond injuries contributed to the defeat, Mourinho replied: “It’s difficult for me to speak about injuries, but you want me to speak about other things when the obvious problems relate to accumulation of injuries?

“If you want to make a mental exercise and imagine Leipzig tonight without Sabitzer, [Patrik] Schick, [Timo] Werner, do you think they would win the way they did?

 

“You want to make an exercise of Liverpool without [Mohamed] Salah, [Sadio] Mane, [Jordan] Henderson, Barcelona without [Antoine] Griezmann, [Lionel] Messi, [Luis] Suarez, [Gerard] Pique, you want to make this exercise with every team in the world? I think every team in the world would struggle with five or six of their most important players missing.

“It’s as simple as that and to look at in a very pragmatic and simple way, it’s as simple as that.

“All the players on Leipzig would play, Forsberg would play, [Yussuf] Poulsen would, all of them would play in this moment in my team.

“I know that automatically our team will improve next season with these players [returning from injury], but we also know we have to improve in other areas.

“Our problems don’t end with injuries but no team in the world would cope with injuries for such a long time. You can cope for one or two matches you cannot cope for three or four months, it’s too much.”

Spurs are seven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and four behind fifth-placed Manchester United in the Premier League. Fifth would secure Champions League football if Manchester City’s ban from the competition stands.

“With the squad we have at the moment it’s going to be very, very difficult,” Mourinho said of their prospects of qualification. “We have matches to play, we have matches to fight. It’s not like we cannot fight. We are going to fight.”

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