El Clasico: Referee who sent off Messi in Supercopa gets Madrid-Barca clash

By Sports Desk April 09, 2021

Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz has been ruled out of Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Barcelona, and his replacement could raise a few eyebrows.

Experienced whistler Lahoz had been assigned El Clasico but on Friday it was revealed he is suffering with a muscle injury, with Jesus Gil Manzano named to take on the job instead.

The 44-year-old Lahoz officiated in Wednesday's Champions League clash between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) announced: "The refereeing committee for professional competition (CACP) has changed, due to a muscle injury, the appointment of referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, the referee initially appointed to direct the match between Real Madrid and Barcelona on matchday 30 of the Primera Division. His replacement will be Jesus Gil Manzano."

Manzano is the referee who showed Barcelona captain Lionel Messi the first red card of his club career in January's Supercopa de Espana final defeat to Athletic Bilbao.

Messi swung an arm at Asier Villalibre in the final moments of extra time, and the Argentinian was dismissed following a VAR review.

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman refused to discuss the referee after that match, saying: "It's better if I don't talk."

Manzano also previously red-carded former Barcelona superstars Luis Suarez and Neymar during their Camp Nou careers.

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    Gabriel Jesus and Alex Telles will not recover from knee injuries in time to play again at the 2022 World Cup, Brazil confirmed on Saturday.

    The pair had each been substituted in Friday's defeat to Cameroon, with team doctor Rodrigo Lasmar confirming afterwards they would have scans the following day.

    Brazil have already been playing without Neymar, Danilo and Alex Sandro due to injuries, and their latest two setbacks are significant.

    Reports in Brazil on Saturday had suggested Jesus would miss a month and Telles was potentially facing surgery, also representing blows to Arsenal and Sevilla.

    A statement from the CBF subsequently confirmed neither would feature for the remainder of the World Cup.

    "As announced by the CBF after the game against Cameroon, players Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus underwent tests this Saturday morning," the statement read.

    "Accompanied by the doctor of the Brazilian team, Rodrigo Lasmar, they performed an MRI on the right knee that confirmed the injuries and the impossibility of recovery in time to participate in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

    "The coordinator of the Brazilian national team, Juninho Paulista, is in contact with the sports directors of Arsenal and Sevilla to define whether Alex Telles and Gabriel Jesus remain with the squad in Doha for continuity of treatment or if they return to their clubs."

    While Jesus was set to play only as Richarlison's back-up in the knockout stage, Telles could have been in line for a prominent role.

    Alex Sandro is the only other natural left-back in the squad and is uncertain to return in time for the last-16 match against South Korea.

    Brazil are at least more optimistic on the status of versatile right-back Danilo, who was set to return to full training on Saturday.

  • Cody Gakpo, Mohammed Kudus and the breakout prospects of the World Cup group stage Cody Gakpo, Mohammed Kudus and the breakout prospects of the World Cup group stage

    Once every four years players from across the globe get a chance to perform on the world stage and force their way into the football zeitgeist.

    Whether it is a young midfielder from Ghana who has been battling injuries the past couple of seasons, or a mercurial Dutch forward trying to push his way out of the Eredivisie, it is the perfect launchpad to alter the course of a player's career.

    Stats Perform has identified four players who have lit up Qatar and, in turn, have seen their profile and transfer stock skyrocket, opening the door to a new world of possibilities come the January transfer window.

    Take a look at these young leading lights...

    Cody Gakpo, the Netherlands

    Cody Gakpo has perhaps been the breakout star of the tournament, finding the back of the net in all three of the Netherlands' group matches.

    Having spent his entire career with PSV, the 23-year-old six-foot-four forward took a huge step forward in the 2021-22 season when he shattered his best goal return, following up his 11 goals in the 2020-21 campaign with 21 last time out.

    While those in the Netherlands set-up were waiting to see if he could replicate his terrific 12 months, he has taken another leap, with 12 goals and 14 assists in 19 combined Eredivisie and Europa League contests this term.

    There were rumours in the most recent transfer window that Leeds United were among the clubs looking to lure Gakpo away from PSV for a fee in the range of €30million, but he opted to reject their contract offer in the hope of landing at one of Europe's biggest clubs.

    That bet on himself has proven to be a masterstroke, with his performances on the Qatar stage well and truly putting him on the radar of Champions League sides including Real Madrid, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, per Dutch journalist Marco Timmer.

    He became the first player from any European nation since 2002 to score in each group match, while he also became only the second player to put his side 1-0 up in all three group fixtures.

    Enzo Fernandez, Argentina

    Just over six months ago, Enzo Fernandez was playing for River Plate back in Argentina, but just half a season after arriving at Benfica for a deal worth up to €18m, the attacking midfielder could be moving on to greener pastures.

    Fernandez, 21, broke into the Argentina squad while still with River Plate, but did not receive his senior debut until September 24 this year.

    His lead-up to the World Cup was strong enough to book his ticket to Qatar, and after coming off the bench in Argentina's first group-stage loss to Saudi Arabia, he came on and scored against Mexico, forcing his way into the starting XI before contributing an assist against Poland.

    His rapid rise has not gone unnoticed, and Marca is reporting Benfica have slapped a €100m fee on their new star if any team wants to pry him away while his contract still has another four seasons locked in.

    Real Madrid are one side said to be accepting of that figure, with Marca claiming they now view him as an alternative option to Borussia Dortmund and England prodigy Jude Bellingham.

    Mohammed Kudus, Ghana

    Ajax's Mohammed Kudus had begun to break out at the club level this season heading into the World Cup.

    The 22-year-old central midfielder scored four goals – including one each against Liverpool and Napoli – while adding two assists in six Champions League fixtures.

    After being awarded his first senior international cap for Ghana back in 2019, he was spotted at Danish side Nordsjaelland and brought over to Ajax for a €9m fee in 2020.

    He missed extended stretches of both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns through injuries, and still has not been used as a guaranteed starter this season, but his emergence on the World Cup stage has been undeniable.

    Against South Korea, Kudus delivered Ghana their only win of the group as he found the back of the net twice in a 3-2 triumph, and it was a performance that is said to have caught the eye of European powerhouses.

    Fichajes named Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain as interested parties, and Sports Illustrated believe his price will be around £90m.

     

    Harry Souttar, Australia

    Australia have now qualified for five World Cups in a row, but after not winning a game at both the 2014 and 2018 editions, they had centre-back Harry Souttar to thank for finally taking three points against Tunisia.

    Souttar, 24, stands at a towering six-foot-six and showed off an impressive ability to cover ground in a hurry when he was called upon for a potentially game-saving, last-man challenge to defend Australia's 1-0 lead.

    It was one of the most spectacular defensive efforts of the tournament so far and one that will go down in Australian football folklore, and it is even more significant when taking into account his recent history.

    Tipped as a potential £20m transfer target late in 2021, Souttar then tore his ACL and missed 12 months of action, returning to the field in time to get three games under his belt with Stoke City before jetting off to the World Cup.

    While he could be forgiven for needing time to work his way into form, he has instead started all three group games and been the Socceroos' top performer, including his stellar efforts in a second clean sheet against Denmark to help his side through to the knockout stage.

    Clearly back to the player he was before his injury – at least – Souttar's showings on the world stage have been the kind that can take a career to a new level.

  • Rumour Has It: Morocco standout Sofyan Amrabat on Liverpool's radar Rumour Has It: Morocco standout Sofyan Amrabat on Liverpool's radar

    Sofyan Amrabat has been at the centre of Morocco's surprise success at the World Cup, and his performances have put the Fiorentina midfielder on the radar of several Premier League clubs.

    Amrabat, 26, had his first taste of Serie A football when he was loaned from Club Brugge to Hellas Verona for the 2019-20 season, catching the eye of Fiorentina, who scooped him up the following year.

    The defensive midfielder has steadily increased his role at Fiorentina, making 10 starts and three substitute appearances in the league this season.

    He played every minute of Morocco's three group games, guiding his side to an undefeated record (W2 D1) with clean sheets against both Belgium and Croatia, and now he is reportedly wanted by the English elite.

     

    TOP STORY – AMRABAT EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL AND TOTTENHAM TARGET

    According to Sky Sports Germany, Liverpool believe Amrabat can address their midfield depth issues, and could be available for €30million in January.

    An earlier report from La Repubblica claimed Tottenham had enquired about a potential deal last January, and his terrific tournament has only strengthened their interest. 

    With a blockbuster last-16 clash booked against Spain on Tuesday, another standout performance could have Amrabat packing his bags for an impending move to England.

     

    ROUND-UP

    – Calciomercato is reporting 23-year-old Barcelona target Martin Zubimendi is also on Manchester United's radar, although the Spaniard's contract ties him to Real Sociedad until 2027.

    – Calciomercato is also reporting Cristiano Ronaldo is "very interested" in joining Chelsea if the Stamford Bridge side will have him.

    – According to Fichajes, Inter would like to bring Barcelona midfielder Franck Kessie back to Serie A, but cannot afford to purchase him outright in January, while the Spanish side are not willing to let him leave on a loan deal.

    – 90min is reporting Real Madrid would need Kylian Mbappe to agree to certain conditions – including a pay cut and significantly less behind-the-scenes influence – if he wants to come to the club in the near future.

    – Newcastle United are not planning any moves in January, and are open to parting ways with 28-year-old winger Ryan Fraser, according to the Telegraph.

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