Pochettino hoping for a favour from Marseille in tight Ligue 1 title race

By Sports Desk February 27, 2021

Mauricio Pochettino is hoping bitter rivals Marseille can give Paris Saint-Germain a helping hand in the Ligue 1 title race when they face Lyon on Sunday.

PSG eased to a 4-0 win over bottom side Dijon on Saturday to climb two points above Lyon in second place and a point behind leaders Lille, both of whom have a game in hand.

Lyon have won five of their last six league games and can move back above the reigning champions when they make the trip to the Stade Velodrome.

There is no love lost between PSG and Marseille, but Pochettino will be supporting Les Phoceens in Sunday's clash.

"We're going to watch the match and it would be welcome if Marseille wins," Pochettino told Canal+ "You have to win matches and stay consistent."

PSG were comfortable winners at Stade Gaston-Gerard thanks to Kylian Mbappe's double - the first of those from the penalty spot - either side of a Moise Kean strike and Danilo Pereira header.

It marks the first time since October that the Parisians have won back-to-back away matches in the league and, a week on from losing at home to Monaco, Pochettino was pleased with the manner of the victory.

"I am very happy. We were very professional today," he said. "It's important to win again and feel that feeling, and also to be perfect from the start. 

"It was a very physical team we played and our approach was the right one. We were as we wanted to be, constant from the start."

Danilo's late header was his first goal for PSG and the holding midfielder also made a big contribution defensively, gaining possession more times (eight) than any player on the field.

"I'm happy with Danilo. He has shown that he can have a place in the side," he said. "Danilo is very professional and we are happy that he scored."

Danilo left the field seven minutes after scoring but has allayed fears of a possible injury lay-off heading into a crucial run of fixtures for PSG.

"It's nothing serious," he said. "Now I have to continue working hard every day to play. Today I was given an opportunity and I think I did well.

"I'm very happy to have scored my first goal and particularly happy with the win. It was a good game for us after losing to Monaco and important we took the three points."

Echoing the view of boss Pochettino, Danilo added: "Now I hope Marseille win!".

PSG have now won 11 of their 12 Ligue 1 meetings with Dijon, scoring 41 goals across those games.

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  • Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker? Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker?

    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

  • Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game Antetokounmpo not taking anything for granted after sixth career 50-point game

    Giannis Antetokounmpo was determined to reach 50 points as he piled on 12 in the last four minutes of the Milwaukee Bucks' 135-110 home win against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

    It was the sixth 50-point performance of Antetokounmpo's career, and after coming into the season with four, he has managed two this month following his career-high 55 against the Washington Wizards on January 3.

    He shot a blistering 20-of-26 from the field – including 16 of Milwaukee's first 21 points – adding 13 rebounds and four assists, and while he could have settled for a strong effort and a comfortable win, he decided to make it a memorable night down the stretch.

    Sitting on 38 points with 3:51 remaining, Antetokounmpo hit four free throws and a layup to reach 44, before closing the game with back-to-back three-pointers to bring up his 50.

    Speaking after the victory, the two-time MVP and 2021 NBA Finals MVP said these are opportunities you do not want to waste.

    "I knew that if I was able to get the rebound, I was going to shoot," he said. "It doesn't always work out, but tonight it did. 

    "I didn't hesitate at all. I was able to get my legs under my shot, stayed there, and just watched the ball go in.

    "It's one of those moments you can never take for granted because you never know when you're going to have those moments again."

    Antetokounmpo's team-mates decided to bring the locker-room celebration out to the court, showering their franchise player with bottles of water in front of the sold-out Fiserv Forum.

    "We might as well do it in front of everybody," Bucks guard Jrue Holiday said. "It's really just to show how much we appreciate him. For him to go out there and do that is amazing, no matter how many times you score 50 points.

    "It's a great time – everybody just kind of gets on his shoulders and we're just along for the ride. At that point, we just got to support him. If he passes it to us, make the shot, but for the most part, we know who's going to carry us."

    Head coach Mike Budenholzer joined Holiday in awe of his star player, highlighting all the hard work he puts in.

    "Tonight, I think 50 on 26 shots is impressive," he said. "Just everything he did, his aggressiveness, a couple threes, especially late, but he's shooting it well. 

    "It feels like a few more catch and shoots – if we can generate a few of those for him and build the confidence in that area, those are areas where he's improving."

    The Bucks improved their record to 33-17, leaving them third in the Eastern Conference and with the fourth-best record overall, while the Pelicans slipped to 26-25 after their eighth consecutive loss as they battle a number of key injuries.

  • Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup Arnold to coach Australia through to 2026 World Cup

    Graham Arnold will stay on as Australia head coach heading into the 2026 World Cup.

    The Socceroos reached the round of 16 in Qatar last year, matching the achievement of 2006.

    After losing to eventual finalists France in their opening group game, Australia beat Tunisia and Denmark to record their best performance at a World Cup finals. They lost 2-1 to a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina in a tight last-16 tie.

    Arnold, who was caretaker manager of the national team between 2006 and 2007 and also took charge of Australia's Olympic side at the delayed Tokyo 2020 tournament, has now signed a new contract to keep him in place through to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

    Football Australia chair Chris Nikou said: "What Graham and the entire squad achieved under the most challenging of circumstances during the last FIFA World Cup campaign was exceptional, and we are delighted that we have secured his services for a further four years.

    "Football Australia is ambitious, where we expect continued progress and results from our senior and youth national teams, and through our discussions with Graham over recent weeks, we know our thinking is aligned on the future direction of Australian football and the Socceroos."

    James Johnson, Football Australia's chief executive, noted Arnold had "contributed to some of Australian football's most iconic moments", but that "his exploits as the Socceroos head coach have propelled him into a league of his own."

    Arnold said: "I love Australia and I love Australian football, and nothing in football can ever match the elation, pride and sense of achievement I and the entire set-up felt in Qatar. 

    "The hunger to continue in the role has never been stronger and I know I have more to give to the Socceroos' programme and Australian football, where I want to deliver more smiles for our fans as we did in Qatar.

    "I approach the next four years with a clean sheet, which is underpinned by a burning ambition to provide more opportunities to our leading emerging and established talent, whilst challenging for major titles starting with the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar next year."

    Arnold explained he hopes Australia's performance at the World Cup convinces the country's government to allocate more funding to the sport and establish a permanent base for the Socceroos. 

    "It's crazy to think the Socceroos don’t get any high-performance funding from the government," he told reporters.

    "They don't have a home. How can you have a football culture if you don't have a home?

    "Funding will help the programmes but the home of football is crucial. It's something as a sport we’ve missed out on. We've got nothing, nowhere to go."

    Arnold has won 30 of his 51 games in charge of Australia, with his 59 per cent win rate the highest of any of the 12 coaches to have overseen the Socceroos on more than 20 occasions.

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