EPL

Martial could miss rest of season, says Man Utd boss Solskjaer

By Sports Desk April 04, 2021

Anthony Martial could miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed. 

The forward suffered a knee injury in France's World Cup qualifying win over Kazakhstan last weekend.

Should he miss the rest of United's 2020-21 campaign, it seems unlikely he would return to full fitness in time for the rescheduled Euro 2020, which kicks off on June 11. 

Speaking ahead of United's Premier League clash with Brighton and Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Sunday, Solskjaer said: "Unfortunately, he sprained his knee with France.

"It's always when they go away on internationals… you can keep your fingers crossed and hope they come back fit.

"Losing Anthony for what might be the rest of the season is very disappointing, especially when reports from there [France] was that it wasn't anything serious, but it looks a bad one."

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  • Morocco v Spain: Gavi knows pass masters must learn from Japan upset Morocco v Spain: Gavi knows pass masters must learn from Japan upset

    Gavi is retaining faith in Spain's style of player even if the impressive teenage star knows La Rojo must learn from the mistakes made against Japan when they face Morocco in the last 16 of the World Cup.

    Spain were on course to top Group E when Alvaro Morata headed an early opener on Wednesday, but goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped the Samurai Blue leapfrog their opponents in stunning fashion.

    For three incredible minutes, Spain even looked set to join Germany in making an early exit as Costa Rica briefly occupied second place.

    Spain ultimately survived despite seeing their seven-match unbeaten run (excluding shoot-outs) at the World Cup halted, and Gavi says Tuesday's game represents a chance to right some wrongs.

    "The match against Japan has to serve as a lesson for what is to come. Luckily, that defeat has been resolved and we are clear about what we have to do," Gavi told Marca.

    "We are in the round of 16 and there are some very good teams that haven't been able to do it. That's why we have to really think that pressure is a privilege."

    Spain completed 2,489 passes in their group-stage campaign, their most at a single tournament on record (since 1966), while their tally of 969 passes against Japan was a record for a losing team at the tournament.

    While Morocco showed their counter-attacking quality to claim four points from games against Croatia and Belgium, Gavi believes Spain must stick to their principles.

    "We are not going to lose focus on the goal, which is to win the World Cup," he added. 

    "We are going to look for it by being faithful to what we have been doing all these years. It would be a mistake to give up everything we believe in."

    Morocco are featuring in the knockout stages of a World Cup for just the second time, having been beaten at this stage by West Germany in 1986.

    The Atlas Lions are chasing a slice of history on Tuesday, when they could match the longest unbeaten run managed by an African side at the World Cup – currently Cameroon's five-game sequence between 1982 and 1990.

    After a 2-1 win over Canada ensured Morocco topped Group F, coach Walid Regragui called for his side to aim high.

    "We didn't come just to say 'oh, we almost got close'," he said. "We need to get the results as all the European or South American teams do. We need to emulate them."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Morocco – Hakim Ziyech 

    While Romain Saiss and Nayef Aguerd are likely to be busy in the Morocco backline, Regragui's men will carry a threat at the other end – chiefly through Chelsea creator Ziyech.

    Ziyech has played more passes into the box (17) and created more chances (4) than any other Morocco player at the World Cup, as well as leading his team-mates for ball carries (43) and combined distance carried (477.6 metres).

    While Ziyech's counter-attacking prowess is clear, he also scored his first World Cup goal last time out, and the 29-year-old could be a thorn in Spain's side.

    Spain – Alvaro Morata

    While Barcelona playmakers Gavi and Pedri have stolen the headlines for Spain in Qatar, fine margins can often decide knockout games – and Morata's contribution could be key. 

    Though maligned by some, Morata has been consistent in front of goal at this tournament, hitting the net on each of his three appearances despite playing a total of just 126 minutes.

    Morata started two of Spain's three knockout games at Euro 2020 last year, and if he can reward Luis Enrique's faith with another goal, he will join David Villa as just the second Spanish player to score in four consecutive World Cup matches.

    PREDICTION

    Spain have never lost in their three previous meetings with Morocco (W2 D1), and Opta's prediction model makes them strong favourites to advance to the last eight, giving them a 61.3 per cent chance of victory.

    However, Morocco did claim a 2-2 draw in the teams' only previous World Cup contest in 2018, and a repeat – which would mean extra-time and potentially penalties – is given a 24 per cent chance. 

    The Atlas Lions have provided one of the great underdog stories of this tournament, but their chances of an historic victory are rated at just 14.7 per cent, making them big outsiders.

  • Ronaldo set for Saudi: What superstar striker can expect at Al Nassr Ronaldo set for Saudi: What superstar striker can expect at Al Nassr

    Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have found his next club.

    Marca reported on Monday the former Manchester United forward was set to join Al Nassr on January 1 after agreeing his exit from Old Trafford last month.

    News of a lucrative contract offer from the Saudi Pro League club emerged last week, with Ronaldo said to be in line to earn more than £100million a year.

    The 37-year-old, who is still in World Cup action with Portugal, appears destined to head outside of Europe for the first time in his storied career.

    Al Nassr are not a renowned name in Europe but have enjoyed huge success in Saudi Arabia, so what can Ronaldo expect should he head to Riyadh?

    Who are Al Nassr?

    Formed in 1955 and winning the Saudi top flight in their very first season, Al Nassr have nine championships to their name – second only to Al Hilal's 15.

    Indeed, Al Nassr and Al Hilal have between them won eight of the past nine Pro League titles, although Al Hilal have taken the most recent three in a row.

    The two sides contest the Riyadh derby, with Al Hilal winning the most recent edition 4-0 in March.

    Ronaldo's new team-mates

    Saudi Arabia's entirely Saudi-based World Cup squad included six Al Nassr players, with Sultan Al Ghannam and Abdulelah Al Amri appearing as substitutes in the shock defeat of Lionel Messi's Argentina.

    But the better known players in the Al Nassr squad are likely those from foreign shores.

    Cameroon's World Cup star Vincent Aboubakar is joined by former Brazil midfielder Luiz Gustavo, along with three-cap Argentina international Pity Martinez.

    Goalkeeper David Ospina has represented Colombia at several World Cups, as well as turning out for Arsenal and Napoli, while Talisca was once a highly rated young forward at Benfica and has scored regularly at Al Nassr.

    South Korea's left-back Kim Jin-su is out on loan.

    Potential debut date

    The Saudi season paused in October ahead of the World Cup but will begin again next week.

    Al Nassr are set to play Al Hilal on December 26, meaning Ronaldo will have missed the derby if he joins in January.

    The legendary striker could be in the line-up against Al Tai in Al Nassr's first match of 2023 on January 5, however.

    Al Shabab lead the Pro League by three points ahead of second-placed Al Nassr, with a top-of-the-table clash lined up for January 13.

  • Dias pleads to Portuguese media for unity over Ronaldo criticism Dias pleads to Portuguese media for unity over Ronaldo criticism

    Ruben Dias pleaded with the Portuguese media to promote unity rather than trying to create a divide following criticism of Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Fernando Santos' Portugal side will face Switzerland in the last 16 of the World Cup on Tuesday after winning Group H despite a shock defeat to South Korea on matchday three.

    Ronaldo endured a particularly difficult day against the Taeguk Warriors.

    He failed to hit the target with either of his two shots and was caught offside three times, with a couple of those situations raising questions of his concentration.

    The 37-year-old was withdrawn in the second half and simultaneously had a disagreement with South Korea forward Cho Gue-sung.

    Since then, a poll on the website of Portuguese newspaper A Bola suggests 70 per cent of supporters want Ronaldo to be dropped, and defender Dias had a defiant response.

    "I actually think you shouldn't ask Ruben Dias that, but you should ask that to Cristiano Ronaldo," the defender told reporters.

    "I'd like to take this moment to say, in this tournament the press is supporting us and Ronaldo, so I'd like to make an appeal to the press; as we progress, instead of creating a divide, create unity, then who knows maybe we'll have good strength and positive energy for all involved."

    If Ronaldo was to be dropped, Rafael Leao would be among the favourites to step in.

    The Milan forward came on as a substitute in all three of Portugal's group games, but Santos appears to think he still requires some adaptation work.

    "He has a huge potential, and I think he will have a promising career," Santos added.

    "But of course he faces the difficulties of any player who has a place in a club like his, where he plays more on the left and playing for the club he has more freedom.

    "But at national team level, he needs to adapt to the others, to players who excel for their clubs but have a different [role] at the national team."

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