In-Demand Coach Alonso Says Speculation over His Future Won’t Distract Leverkusen 

22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
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In-Demand Coach Alonso Says Speculation over His Future Won’t Distract Leverkusen 

22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)
22 February 2024, North Rhine-Westphalia, Leverkusen: Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso attends a press conference ahead of Friday's Bundesliga soccer match against 1. FSV Mainz 05. (dpa)

Bayer Leverkusen coach Xabi Alonso has denied the speculation over his future is a distraction for the Bundesliga leaders after Bayern Munich announced coach Thomas Tuchel is leaving.

Alonso is considered one of the most in-demand coaches in European soccer for upcoming vacancies at Bayern and Liverpool — both clubs where he played — by leading Leverkusen to an eight-point lead over Bayern in the Bundesliga.

When asked about the speculation and Bayern’s history of signing players and coaches from league rivals, Alonso said on Thursday, “It’s not a problem. It’s a super opponent that we have, but there is no distraction.”

Jürgen Klopp said last month he is stepping down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season after nine years in charge. Bayern’s run of three consecutive losses prompted the German champion to say Tuchel will leave in June after 15 months at the club.

Fans of Liverpool and Bayern fondly remember Alonso as a player, and both clubs are looking for a new coach.

Alonso’s team is unbeaten in 32 games in all competitions and is a contender in the German Cup semifinals and the Europa League.

Leverkusen’s title challenge continues on Friday at home to Mainz.

Bayern plays Leipzig on Saturday.



Rafael Nadal Loses in the French Open’s First Round to Alexander Zverev

 Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to the public as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to the public as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Rafael Nadal Loses in the French Open’s First Round to Alexander Zverev

 Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to the public as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
Spain's Rafael Nadal gestures to the public as he leaves the court after losing against Germany's Alexander Zverev in their men's singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

Rafael Nadal lost in the first round of the French Open to Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Monday in what might turn out to be the 14-time Roland Garros champion’s last match at his favorite tournament.

It is the first time in his long and illustrious career that Nadal has been beaten in two consecutive matches on clay courts and the first time he has dropped a match earlier than the fourth round at the French Open. His career record at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament is now 112-4.

The match was played with the retractable roof shut at Court Philippe Chatrier, and the loud cheers for Nadal from most in the capacity crowd of about 15,000 echoed throughout.

Nadal, who owns 22 major trophies in all, turns 38 on June 3 and he has been dealing with hip and abdominal injuries since January 2023, limiting him to 15 matches and an 8-7 record since the start of last year. His infrequent play dropped his ranking to No. 275 and he was unseeded for the French Open for the first time.

That is why he ended up facing the No. 4-seeded Zverev, the runner-up at the 2020 US Open, a gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics and the only man to reach the semifinals in Paris each of the past three years.

Nadal has indicated 2024 likely would be his last season before retirement but he said Saturday that he is not 100% sure he won’t play again at the French Open. And he reiterated that after Monday's defeat.

His three other losses at Roland Garros came against Robin Soderling in 2010 and against Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021.


Iga Swiatek and Jannik Sinner Start French Open with Straight-Set Victories

 Italy's Jannik Sinner celebrates after winning his men's singles match against US Christopher Eubanks on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
Italy's Jannik Sinner celebrates after winning his men's singles match against US Christopher Eubanks on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
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Iga Swiatek and Jannik Sinner Start French Open with Straight-Set Victories

 Italy's Jannik Sinner celebrates after winning his men's singles match against US Christopher Eubanks on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)
Italy's Jannik Sinner celebrates after winning his men's singles match against US Christopher Eubanks on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on day two of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. (AFP)

Iga Swiatek began her bid for a third consecutive French Open title with a straightforward 6-1, 6-2 victory over Leolia Jeanjean on Monday, stretching her winning streak to 13 matches.

Swiatek, who has been ranked No. 1 for nearly every week since April 2022, put together an overwhelming 26-2 edge in winners and had just one, brief blip at Court Philippe Chatrier in the 1-hour, 1-minute match: She got broken to trail 1-0 in the second set.

But after nine unforced errors in the initial two games of that set, Swiatek made only two the rest of the way en route to a 15th consecutive win at Roland Garros. Three of her four Grand Slam trophies came in Paris — in 2020, 2022 and 2023. The last woman to win the championship at the clay-court major three straight times was Justine Henin in 2005-07.

“It feels like home here,” said Swiatek, who will meet four-time major champ and former No. 1 Naomi Osaka next. “I'm really happy to be back. Just feel like I can play really good tennis, so hopefully I'm going to be here as long as possible.”

Her match was going to be followed by one involving someone even more comfortable on the red clay: Rafael Nadal, the 14-time champion at Roland Garros. He was scheduled to face No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev in the first round — in what might end up being Nadal's last French Open match.

“For sure, I'll be watching Rafa’s match,” Swiatek said. “Comparing me to him? I don't think I'm at that level yet. He's a great person and a great athlete ... I will try to take lessons from him.”

In other early action Monday, reigning Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner improved to 8-0 in Grand Slam play in 2024 by defeating Chris Eubanks 6-3, 6-3, 6-4, Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova eliminated Rebeka Masarova 6-1, 6-3 and two-time major finalist Ons Jabeur beat Sachia Vickery of the US 6-3, 6-2.

Sinner, who missed the Italian Open this month with an injured hip, moved well and his strokes seemed just fine. He limited the big-serving Eubanks to four aces, converted 5 of 10 break points and was broken only once himself.

Not surprisingly, the clean-striking Sinner won 10 of the 14 points that lasted nine strokes or more.

“The hip is good. I'm very happy. I'm glad that my team and myself worked very hard to be back on court as soon as possible,” Sinner said. “For sure, (my) general shape is not at 100% yet, so we try to build every day.”

The encounter lasted only a little more than two hours and, truth be told, Sinner was not really tested all that much.

“I'm obviously happy by what I have achieved in the last months. But our goal is to improve every day. That for me is more important. I know I have to improve some things,” said Sinner, who now faces French veteran Richard Gasquet. “Let's see what I can achieve in the future.”


Ancelotti Has ‘Really Difficult’ Decision to Make in Goal for Madrid Ahead of Champions League Final 

Real Madrid's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti gives a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 27, 2024 ahead of their Champions League final football match against Borussia Dortmund. (AFP)
Real Madrid's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti gives a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 27, 2024 ahead of their Champions League final football match against Borussia Dortmund. (AFP)
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Ancelotti Has ‘Really Difficult’ Decision to Make in Goal for Madrid Ahead of Champions League Final 

Real Madrid's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti gives a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 27, 2024 ahead of their Champions League final football match against Borussia Dortmund. (AFP)
Real Madrid's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti gives a press conference at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 27, 2024 ahead of their Champions League final football match against Borussia Dortmund. (AFP)

Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti knows he will have a tough decision to make in goal for the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

Will he pick Andriy Lunin, who has played in goal nearly the entire season, or Thibaut Courtois, the veteran who has won the Champions League before but has just returned from injury?

“It’s really difficult,” Ancelotti said Monday. “Of course it’s really difficult, because both of them deserve to play this final. Lunin because he did a fantastic season, and Courtois because he is back from his injury and everyone knows the quality of Courtois. It’s a difficult decision but I think I’m going to take into the game this decision, no doubt."

Lunin was nursing a fever and was the only Madrid player who didn’t train on Monday as Madrid began its final week of preparations. But Ancelotti said the 25-year-old Ukrainian was expected to be available for Saturday’s final in London.

The illness surely doesn't help Lunin's chances, though, and many had already expected Ancelotti to go with the more experienced Courtois despite his lack of minutes this season.

Courtois ruptured a left-knee ligament in August, just two days before the start of the season. The 32-year-old Belgian then also ruptured the meniscus in his right knee in March, when he was close to making a comeback.

He was sidelined until the beginning of this month, when he started in a 3-0 win over Cadiz, a victory that secured Madrid’s 36th Spanish league title.

Lunin was back in goal as Madrid beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals. He had saved two penalties in the decisive shootout win over Manchester City in the quarterfinals.

Lunin had earned the starting position over Kepa Arrizabalaga, the former Chelsea player who is Madrid’s other reserve goalkeeper. Ancelotti said Lunin was the best goalkeeper in the world right now.

Courtois has proven experience in finals, though, having won the 2022 Champions League with Madrid, the FA Cup with Chelsea, the Europa League with Atletico Madrid, and two Copa del Rey titles (one for Madrid, one for Atletico), among several other titles.

“Both deserve to play for various reasons,” Ancelotti said.

Ancelotti joked that he will wait as long as possible to announce the starting goalkeeper because otherwise the debate would be over, and “I like the debate.”


WWE SmackDown, King and Queen of the Ring Conclude in Jeddah

The two-day WWE SmackDown and King & Queen of the Ring events, organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of Jeddah Season, culminated in thrilling matches at the Jeddah Superdome on Saturday. (SPA)
The two-day WWE SmackDown and King & Queen of the Ring events, organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of Jeddah Season, culminated in thrilling matches at the Jeddah Superdome on Saturday. (SPA)
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WWE SmackDown, King and Queen of the Ring Conclude in Jeddah

The two-day WWE SmackDown and King & Queen of the Ring events, organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of Jeddah Season, culminated in thrilling matches at the Jeddah Superdome on Saturday. (SPA)
The two-day WWE SmackDown and King & Queen of the Ring events, organized by the General Entertainment Authority as part of Jeddah Season, culminated in thrilling matches at the Jeddah Superdome on Saturday. (SPA)

The two-day WWE SmackDown and King & Queen of the Ring events, organized by Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority as part of Jeddah Season, culminated in thrilling matches at the Jeddah Superdome on Saturday.

In a captivating main event, Austrian Gunther emerged victorious over American Randy Orton, to claim the coveted King of the Ring title, igniting electrifying cheers from the packed audience.

Meanwhile, in the women's division, Australian Nia Jax emerged triumphant, defeating Irish Lyra Valkyria to capture the Queen of the Ring title.

The tag team action was equally intense, with Americans Bianca Belair and Gigi Dolin securing the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship belts after a hard-fought battle against fellow Americans Tamina and Candice LeRae.

American Liv Morgan successfully defended her WWE Women's World Championship title against Irish Becky Lynch, while American Cody Rhodes emerged victorious in the Undisputed WWE Championship, defeating fellow American Logan Paul.

The evening concluded with Canadian Sami Zayn retaining his Intercontinental Championship title, overcoming American Chad Gable and Australian Bronson Reed.


Giroud Scores in His Last AC Milan Match on a Night of Farewells at San Siro

AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
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Giroud Scores in His Last AC Milan Match on a Night of Farewells at San Siro

AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)
AC Milan's French forward #09 Olivier Giroud (C) makes a heart sign as he celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Salernitana at San Siro Stadium, in Milan on May 25, 2024. as the last match by coach. (AFP)

Olivier Giroud scored in his final match for AC Milan as the Rossoneri drew with bottom club Salernitana 3-3 on a Saturday night of farewells at San Siro.

The 37-year-old Giroud, who helped Milan to the Serie A title in 2022, is leaving after three years and will join Los Angeles FC.

Giroud was given a standing ovation when he was substituted off six minutes from time, hugging all of his teammates and coach Stefano Pioli as the crowd sang his name.

Milan’s last match of the season was also Pioli’s final match in charge, bringing to an end a five-year stint that included the Champions League semifinal last year as well as the Serie A title.

There were emotional scenes before the match as Pioli was encircled by his players. He had tears in his eyes as he embraced each of them individually as they applauded, while the whole stadium gave him a standing ovation.

Rafael Leão immediately went over to celebrate with Pioli after scoring the opening goal in the 22nd minute following a howler by Salernitana goalkeeper Vincenzo Fiorillo, who dropped the ball at his feet. They were joined by the rest of the Milan team.

Five minutes later it was Giroud’s turn as he acrobatically struck home a corner for his 15th league goal of the season. The France forward has 49 goals for Milan in his three seasons.

Simy pulled one back for Salernitana in the 64th but Davide Calabria restored Milan’s two-goal advantage 13 minutes later.

However, goals from Junior Sambia and Simy in the last three minutes rescued a draw for already-relegated Salernitana in its last top-flight match.

It was also Milan defender Simon Kjær's last match for the club. Pioli, Giroud and Kjær were all celebrated in a special ceremony after the match, and all three struggled to hold back tears.

RECORD-EQUALLING

Alex Sandro made his 327th and final appearance for Juventus as the Brazilian equaled Pavel Nedved’s record for the most matches by a foreign player for the Bianconeri.

Alex Sandro headed in Juve’s second in a 2-0 win over Monza. Federico Chiesa claimed the opener two minutes earlier.

Nicolò Fagioli hit the crossbar in the 16th minute on his first start for Juventus since returning from a seven-month ban for betting violations.

Monza forward Alessio Zerbin was sent off in the final minute following a second yellow card.


Madrid Draws with Betis with Likely Starters for Champions League Final and Kroos Says Farewell

Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
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Madrid Draws with Betis with Likely Starters for Champions League Final and Kroos Says Farewell

Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)
Real Madrid's German midfielder #08 Toni Kroos is thrown in the air by teammates during the Spanish league football match between Real Madrid CF and Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on May 25, 2024. (AFP)

Real Madrid drew with Real Betis 0-0 on Saturday in its last warmup game before facing Borussia Dortmund in the Champions league final.

Madrid wrapped up the Spanish league title three weeks ago, and since then coach Carlo Ancelotti has rotated his lineups to rest his starters. But the Italian likely had his top-choice players back in his starting 11 against Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu.

There were only two changes from the Champions League semifinals victory over Bayern Munich.

The versatile Eduardo Camavinga was in the spot of injured holding midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, who will miss the final due to a foot injury.

The other tweak was goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois starting over Andriy Lunin, the backup who played most of the season before the Belgian recovered recently from an ACL injury.

Ancelotti, however, would not confirm that this will be his starting team for the final in London on June 1.

“I have a week to think about it, we may still have some doubts,” Ancelotti said. “We will enjoy preparing for the final and arrive at our best form on Saturday and try to win it.”

KROOS HONORED

Toni Kroos played his last home game for Madrid. The 34-year-old midfielder announced this week he will retire after playing for Germany at this summer’s European Championship.

Kroos' teammates donned his No. 8 shirt to hold an honor guard for him before kickoff. When he was substituted late, his teammates and coach took turns hugging him. Kroos then embraced his three young children.

He can add to his 22 titles, including four Champions League crowns, with Madrid next weekend.

“I couldn’t have asked for more,” Kroos said. “These have been 10 unforgettable years. Now the best way for me to finish would be winning another title.”

DOVBYK EYES TOP SCORER

Ukraine striker Artem Dovbyk is set to finish the Spanish league as its top scorer after his main challenger fell one goal short of his mark.

Dovbyk, who is expected to play in Euro 2024, leads the league in the final round with 24 goals.

Villarreal striker Alexander Sorloth has 23 and had a chance to equal Dovbyk when it visited Osasuna. But the Norway striker appeared to suffer a leg injury early and had to be substituted without scoring.

Dovbyk was two goals behind Sorloth in the goals race until he bagged a hat trick to fuel a 7-0 rout of Granada on Friday.

Dovbyk's last outside threat is Robert Lewandowski, who has 18 before Barcelona visits Sevilla on Sunday in Xavi Hernández's last game in charge.

Dovbyk joined Girona last summer from Ukrainian club SC Dnipro-1 and helped transform the small club into a European sensation. The Catalan club partly owned by Manchester City's Adu Dhabi ownership qualified for the Champions League for the first time with a third-place finish.

Villarreal drew at Osasuna 1-1 after Sorloth's replacement, José Luis Morales, scored a second-half equalizer.

Osasuna striker Ante Budimir, who is on Croatia's Euro 2024 squad, netted his first goal since recovering from fractured ribs to give the hosts a first-half lead. He finished the league with 17 goals.

Villarreal will likely conclude the campaign with the league’s top assist-maker. Midfielder Álex Baena, who could be on Spain’s Euros 2024 squad, made it 14 assists by setting up Morales. Villarreal said that tied a club record set by Juan Riquelme.

The game also featured the farewell of coach Jagoba Arrasate after his six years at Osasuna. Arrasate announced in March that he turned down the offer of a contract extension, saying he needed a fresh start.

NICO SHINES

Nico Williams capped his superb season by scoring to give fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao a 1-0 win at Rayo Vallecano. Williams helped Athletic win the Copa del Rey and is a sure bet to play for Spain at Euro 2024.

Fourth-placed Atletico Madrid got goals from Samuel Lino and Reinildo Mandava to defeat sixth-placed Real Sociedad 2-0.

The final round had no drama with the title, European berths and relegation spots all decided beforehand.

Madrid, Barcelona, Girona and Atletico will play in the Champions League next season, while Athletic and Sociedad are Europa League bound. Betis will play the Conference League.

FINALLY A REASON TO CHEER

Almeria, which was relegated a month before the season ended, was at least able to escape last place and give its fans something to cheer about after crushing Cadiz 6-1. Luis Suárez and Sergio Arribas both notched braces in the rout.

Almeria pushed Granada to the bottom. Cadiz will join them in the second division next season.


Manchester United Stun Manchester City 2-1 to Win FA Cup

Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
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Manchester United Stun Manchester City 2-1 to Win FA Cup

Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP
Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo celebrates after scoring against Manchester City in the FA Cup final © JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP

Manchester United stunned Manchester City 2-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley on Saturday, ending City's dreams of a second straight league and cup double.

Alejandro Garnacho put United ahead in the 30th minute and Kobbie Mainoo doubled their lead nine minutes later after a well-worked team move, with Jeremy Doku pulling one back late on.

While Ten Hag was receiving his medal from the future king of England, Prince William, the Dutchman then got his hands on his second trophy in as many seasons to end a troubled campaign on a high.

“I’m not satisfied with it, we have to do better, and if they don’t want me anymore then I go somewhere else to win trophies because that is what I did my whole career,” a defiant Ten Hag said. “We are constructing a team and when I took over it was a mess at Manchester United.”

First-half goals from Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo set up the win. City piled the pressure on after the break and eventually pulled a late goal back through substitute Jeremy Doku.

United’s owners were watching on from the executive seats at Wembley and have a decision to make.

“We are all very proud of the players and the staff who work tirelessly to support them,” new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe said.


Mauricio Pochettino Paid the Price of Rocking Todd Boehly’s Boat at Chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
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Mauricio Pochettino Paid the Price of Rocking Todd Boehly’s Boat at Chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock
Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea by mutual consent after one season in charge. Photograph: Dave Shopland/REX/Shutterstock

It would have been different if Mauricio Pochettino had been willing to trust Chelsea’s great restructuring is going to work. In the end, the problem for the Argentinian was that he joined a club who do not want a manager who has all the power. It is clear by now that anyone who hopes to last under Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital has to collaborate with the board on everything, be open-minded about constructive criticism and remember not to rock the boat too much when it comes to recruitment.
Unfortunately that was never going to be Pochettino – just as it was never going to be Thomas Tuchel, who lasted seven games before being fired. Pochettino is 52. He is a big, magnetic character and an experienced coach who believes his way is best. He was never going to listen to suggestions that he could ease Chelsea’s injury problems by reviewing and altering his training methods.
Inevitably there will be talk of an amicable split. Tuchel left under a cloud after the collapse of his relationship with Boehly and Clearlake, a private equity fund managed by Behdad Eghbali and José E. Feliciano. Pochettino was better at managing upwards. He is a more amiable figure than Tuchel. That, though, does not mean he did not have strong views about the way to run the club. Pochettino was not afraid of flexing his muscles when he spoke to the media during the second half of the season. He was not shy of making it clear that he wanted more control over signings.
Yet Chelsea, who have spent over £1bn on players since Boehly and Clearlake bought the club from Roman Abramovich two years ago, were not willing to alter their approach to suit the man who carried them to sixth place. Eghbali, whose voice carries most weight, was unsure about Pochettino from the start.
Would anything change his mind? Losing the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool’s kids did not help, nor did the failure to challenge for Champions League qualification. Ultimately, Pochettino could never quite solidify his position. It is hard not to conclude that his great mistake was failing to realise that this was not a club conditioned to serve a manager; if power is being doled out, then it is heading only in the direction of the co-sporting directors, Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, who is said to be close to Eghbali.
It is Stewart and Winstanley who have implemented Chelsea’s youth-first policy. That Pochettino, who was popular with the players, made it work by making sense of an immature squad has not really registered. It is instructive that the team’s late surge to sixth place was merely seen as evidence that criticism of Stewart and Winstanley was misguided.
Chelsea are determined to modernise. Joe Shields is a popular figure in the recruitment team and Sam Jewell is the latest addition from Brighton. They are scouring the globe and are close to completing a deal for the Palmeiras sensation, Estêvão Willian, for just over €60m. Estêvão, 17, is seen as a future Ballon d’Or winner by good judges. Chelsea’s plan is ambitious. It can look crazy. If it works, though, they could end up with one of the best teams in the world.
So the head coach has to swear allegiance to the recruitment team. Do not rock the boat. Do not make the mistake of thinking that Pochettino going for a “very nice dinner” with Boehly last Friday meant anything. Pochettino wanted experienced signings last year and this summer. He disagrees with plans to sell two of his most important players, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher, because of profit and sustainability concerns. He was not really into Chelsea bringing in Brentford’s set-piece coach, Bernardo Cueva.
Admittedly it can be argued that Pochettino is behind the times given how much having a set-piece coach has helped Arsenal. Chelsea want a young, progressive manager who will be comfortable with their structure. They do not want fireworks. Expect them to steer clear of a combustible character such as Roberto De Zerbi. There is strong interest in Ipswich’s impressive 38-year-old manager, Kieran McKenna.
But Chelsea want to be consistent challengers for the title. Young coaches are in vogue, but history suggests that the successful clubs build around the person on the touchline. Arsenal, for instance, cater to Mikel Arteta’s needs. Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten season is not down to their structure; it is because of Xabi Alonso. Sometimes an inspiring, demanding, obsessive, slightly unhinged character is required. Liverpool had that in Jürgen Klopp. Players need to believe. They need a talismanic figure to carry them over the line – particularly when Pep Guardiola is in charge of the team at the top.
Chelsea have a way to go to reach those heights. The worry is that they have created more instability for themselves; perhaps even that they are becoming unmanageable. Graham Potter was gone after less than seven months, Pochettino after less than a year. At this rate, potential hires will wonder if this is the impossible job. McKenna, and others, will need to consider if this is worth the hassle. The rewards are potentially magnificent. There is a chance to take this talented young side and create something special. Alternatively, the payoff could be huge if you aren’t willing to say yes to football’s great disruptors.

- The Guardian Sport


Adam Wharton’s England Call-up is a Credit to Palace’s Progression

Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
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Adam Wharton’s England Call-up is a Credit to Palace’s Progression

Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images
Adam Wharton has been included in England’s 33-man provisional squad for Euro 2024. Photograph: Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Adam Wharton could hardly have picked a more difficult Premier League debut at the start of February. With Crystal Palace trailing 1-0 against their arch-rivals Brighton, a knee injury to the captain, Marc Guéhi, forced Roy Hodgson to throw in the 19‑year‑old, who had signed 48 hours earlier from Blackburn.

Brighton doubled their lead within five minutes and seven seconds after Palace kicked off again a moment arrived that must have been replayed in Wharton’s mind countless times. Receiving the ball midway in his own half, he turned and attempted to pass to Tyrick Mitchell but was surprised by Pascal Gross and ended up losing possession.

What a difference a few months make. Wharton is one of four Palace players in Gareth Southgate’s 33- man provisional England squad for Euro 2024, and the midfielder – who turned 20 four days after the 4-1 defeat by Brighton – has become the heartbeat of a team transformed by the new manager, Oliver Glasner.

Palace won five of their final six matches, scoring 20 goals, and Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, was at Selhurst Park last Sunday to witness the 5-0 rout of Aston Villa in their final game. Whereas the England call-ups for Henderson, Eberechi Eze and Guéhi caused few ripples, the selection of Wharton is something of a surprise. He made his debut for England Under-21s as a substitute against Luxembourg in March and this tournament had been regarded as coming slightly too early despite his impressive form.

A dearth of experience in central midfield caused by the problems with Jordan Henderson and Kalvin Phillips this season mean England have been forced to search for alternatives. Kobbie Mainoo – who Southgate watched being outplayed by Wharton in Palace’s 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United this month – is expected to be part of the final squad after featuring in friendlies against Brazil and Belgium in March.

It could come down to a straight fight between Wharton and Liverpool’s Curtis Jones, who has yet to win a senior cap but was in the team of the tournament when England Under-21s were crowned European champions last year.

“We need to see some of the younger guys. They’ve had good seasons and we can learn more about them,” said Southgate, a former Palace captain, when asked on Tuesday about his midfield options. “They are the best players at this moment to fulfil the roles that we are talking about.”

Much of the credit for Wharton’s rapid progression must go to Glasner, the Austrian who has implemented an exciting system that relies heavily on Wharton’s metronomic passing ability from deep positions. Not since 1991 when Graham Taylor selected Nigel Martyn, Geoff Thomas, John Salako and Ian Wright for an end‑of‑season tour to Australia and New Zealand have four Palace players been in the same England squad. Mitchell can consider himself unfortunate not to have made it five this time after being capped twice in 2022 and excelling as a left wing‑back since Glasner’s arrival.
Steve Coppell’s Palace had finished third in the old First Division in 1991 but sold Wright to the champions, Arsenal, a few months later and slipped to 10th, before relegation the following season. This time around the chairman, Steve Parish, will be delighted to see the praise being lavished on the club’s excellent recruitment record, all four players having been signed for relatively modest fees.

Henderson, who cost an initial £15m from Manchester United in August, has a strong case to be included in the final 26-man squad by the deadline on 7 June after playing well since being handed his opportunity at Palace because of an injury to another England goalkeeper, Sam Johnstone. Guéhi, the defender who has returned from three months out just in time and proved his versatility by playing in midfield against Villa, will fancy his chances of forcing his way into England’s starting lineup having won nine caps under Southgate and been part of the Under-17 World Cup-winning side along with Phil Foden in 2017.

As for Eze, who ended the season in sparkling form and won his first senior caps last year, making the cut would be particularly poignant. Three years ago, the attacking midfielder discovered he was part of Southgate’s provisional squad for the postponed Euro 2020 immediately after injuring an achilles during a Palace training session and being ruled out for several months. Now he and England’s other Eagles have their opportunity to take flight.

- The Guardian


Leclerc Takes Pole Position for Monaco GP, Ends Verstappen's Bid for F1 Record

25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
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Leclerc Takes Pole Position for Monaco GP, Ends Verstappen's Bid for F1 Record

25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
25 May 2024, Monaco, Monte-Carlo: Monaco's Formula 1 driver Charles Leclerc of Ferrari competes during the Practice 3 ahead of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Charles Leclerc took pole position for Ferrari at the Monaco Grand Prix and ended Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen's bid for a record-extending ninth straight pole on Saturday, The Associated Press reported.
Verstappen, who shares the F1 record with the late Ayrton Senna, starts Sunday's race from sixth place for Red Bull on arguably the most difficult track for overtaking in the series.
Leclerc secured his third pole in four years at Monaco, where he grew up overlooking the start-finish line, and took his career total to 24 poles.
He finished .154 seconds ahead of McLaren's Oscar Piastri and .248 clear of Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren's Lando Norris qualified fourth ahead of Mercedes driver George Russell.
“Really, really happy about the lap,” Leclerc said. “I know more often than not that qualifying is not everything in the race.”
Leclerc took pole in 2021, but could not start due to a gearbox problem. He led from pole in 2022 until Ferrari made an incorrect call to change his tires.
Verstappen won the race from pole last year but will be hard pushed to win his sixth race of the season.
But Leclerc is well set to end his run of nearly two years without a win, dating to July 2022 at the Austrian GP.
“I just need a good launch (from the start),” said Leclerc, who has won five F1 races in his career.
Traffic forced a couple of drivers to swerve around other cars struggling for space on Monaco's tight and sinewy 3.3-kilometer (two-mile) street circuit.
Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso narrowly avoided a piece of debris just before heading into the tunnel section during Q1, the first part of qualifying.
Alonso failed to make it into Q2 and so did Red Bull's Sergio Perez, who muttered an expletive on race radio. He is out of contract at the end of the season and Red Bull has yet to confirm he will get a seat for 2025.
Norris only just squeezed into Q2, but then found his rhythm.