Gerard Pique likely to miss PSG second leg with knee injury

Gerard Pique has suffered a recurrence of the knee injury which ruled him out for three months earlier in the season and now looks unlikely to be fit for Barcelona’s Champions League second leg tie with Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

The former Spain international originally suffered the injury against Atletico Madrid back in November and was subsequently sidelined until late February.

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Pique collapsed after twisting his knee | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Pique opted against surgery in a bid to speed up his recovery time, though in hindsight that seems to have been a rash move.

The defender collapsed in a heap during extra-time of his side’s superb 3-2 aggregate comeback win over Sevilla in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night, with Barça revealing via their official website that the 34-year-old now looks set for a further spell on the treatment table.

“The medical assessment and tests performed this morning have shown that first team player Gerard Pique has a sprain in the internal lateral ligament of his right knee,” the club’s statement read. “He is therefore unavailable and the evolution of the injury will determine when he returns.

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A timeframe has yet to be put on Pique’s likely absence | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

“The Barça centre-back was a starter and played the 120 minutes in the superb win against Sevilla, as well as being one of the great protagonists of the night, leading the heroic comeback with a goal in added time that allowed Barça to force extra-time.”

The club have yet to put a timeframe on Pique’s injury, but with Barcelona’s Champions League clash with PSG on the horizon, it seems unlikely the defender will play any part in their bid to overturn the 4-1 deficit from the first leg.

Ronald Koeman now faces and anxious wait for news on the severity of his star defender’s injury, with potentially crucial domestic fixtures against Real Sociedad and Real Madrid also taking place in the coming months.

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Winners & losers from gameweek 34 in the Championship

As if there isn’t enough football being rammed down our throats every night currently as is, the Championship continues to work through its hectic as ever fixture schedule.

Seriously, 42 games and then the play-offs? That’s absurd at the best of times.

We can’t complain, though, because England’s second tier throws up some of the greatest moments and is sometimes much more entertaining than the top flight.

90min has picked out the biggest winners and losers from gameweek 34, just for you.

Perhaps a dark horse in the usual discussions for Premier League promotion, the Royals have bounced back from defeat against bottom of the table to make it two big wins on the bounce.

A 1-0 victory against Blackburn on Tuesday night has seen them sneak into the play-offs at fifth place, two points ahead of Bournemouth in sixth.

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Derby need to be careful | Cardiff City FC/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney’s Rams got absolutely thumped in a 4-0 defeat to Cardiff on Tuesday night, making for a long drive home.

Losing 4-0 is never cool, but it’s even worse knowing it leaves them just six points above the drop zone in 18th and undoes some solid results against Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield and Wycombe.

He better book himself back into that hair loss clinic; this season isn’t getting any less stressful anytime soon.

Barnsley made it six wins in a row with a 3-1 victory away to QPR, in an attempt to give Manchester City a run for their money with winning streaks.

It puts the Yorkshire club in seventh and just one point off the play-offs with a game in hand. Consider also that they play sixth-placed Bournemouth and a bunch of teams in a relegation scrap, and they could find themselves in an unlikely push for promotion.

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Wycombe need a miracle now | Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Oh, Wycombe…

Beating Reading with ten men and emerging victorious in a five goal thriller in Huddersfield means nothing when you come up against Watford and Norwich back-to-back.

Defeat to Watford makes it consecutive 2-0 losses and has no doubt smashed up any confidence they had, sitting 13 points away from the safety of 21st place.

A huge 1-0 victory against second-placed Brentford sent Norwich ten points clear at the top of the Championship on Wednesday night, with Emiliano Buendia bagging his tenth league goal of the season.

The Canaries barely had a one point lead atop of the table in the middle of February, but now look nailed on to win a second Championship in three seasons.

Just a shame they’ll come back to the Premier League to get relegated immediately again, isn’t it?

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Brentford? More like Bottle-ford, am I right guys? | Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Brentford fumbled the bag in gameweek 29 and failed to go top of the table in a 2-0 home defeat.

Since then, they’ve surrendered any chance of winning the title and sit level on points with third place Watford with the defeat to Norwich.

Fumbling a title charge is one thing, but surely they won’t fumble automatic promotion on top of that, right? They play the Hornets on the second-to-last fixture of the season and at this rate, they’ll be fighting for mid-table by then.

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The best football books that you need to read

There’s quite a lot of football on the TV at the moment, so if you fancy a break from all of that, why not read a book about the beautiful game instead?

Football books are an absolute minefield, with a plethora of choice on the shelves and online. We’ve made life a little easier for you and selected the very best ones that you can buy.

The winner of the Telegraph’s Football Book of the Year award is Ultra; Tobias Jones’ exploration of the extreme, sinister side to football fandom.

With the violence, politics, extremism and crime of football ultras also comes passion and solidarity, and Jones investigates these footballing subcultures at some of Italy’s biggest clubs.

Available to buy from Amazon for £8.19

St Pauli are a unique football club. The German side have attracted a cult following, built around their left leaning politics and social activism.

St Pauli: Another Football is Possible details the fascinating culture, values and history of the club, from its life under Nazi rule to its global expansion today.

Available to buy from Amazon for £11.89

What started out as a viral Twitter thread from comedian Laura Lexx during the depths of lockdown has blossomed into a full blown diary about what it would be like to be married to the pragmatic man of your dreams: Jurgen Klopp.

The book takes us to job interviews and IKEA with the Liverpool boss, and is a perfect bit of hilarious, escapism reading.

Available from Amazon for £4.99

Comedian and presenter Kevin Day explores the history of all 92 English Football League clubs by speaking to fans, players and coaches, and his razor sharp humour radiates off the page.

It’s a book by a fan, for fans. It’s quirky, informative, interesting and very, very funny.

Available to buy from Amazon for £9.81

The Guardian’s expert footballing tactician and historian Jonathan Wilson delves into how the golden age of Hungarian football in the 1950s has shaped the modern game.

It’s informative and heartbreaking, detailing stories of Hungarian managers who escaped the Nazis and the Soviet Communists and shedding light on a forgotten slice of football’s history.

Available to buy from Amazon for £7.98

The USWNT’s talisman from the 2019 World Cup Megan Rapinoe lifts the lid on her success on the field, her activism off it and her personal family life.

In this honest and self-deprecating account, the two-time world champion opens up on suing the United States Soccer Federation with her teammates, her decision to come out publicly, and taking the knee to support Colin Kaepernick and the subsequent backlash she endured.

Available from Amazon for £14.99

Published in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, A Game of Two Halves charts honest, frank and funny conversations between football fans and their favourite footballing figures.

Claire Balding meeting Lucy Bronze, Wretch 32 meeting Ian Wright and Johnny Marr meeting Pep Guardiola are three of the 12 chats in the book, offering a great insight into the personalities and beliefs behind the players.

Available to buy from Amazon for £9.72

Adrian Doherty is the greatest footballer you’ve never heard of. The winger progressed through the Manchester United academy in the early 1990s, and those who watched him and played along side him insist he was as good as Ryan Giggs. Oliver Kay tells the remarkable untold story of what unfolded after Doherty was offered a five-year contract at Old Trafford as a 17-year-old and shedding light on his gloriously eccentric personality.

The book takes its title from the Bob Dylan song Forever Young – for Doherty was an unconventional footballer who spent his spare time busking, writing poetry and worshipping Bob Dylan.

Available to buy from Amazon for £9.01

Forgotten Nations explores football’s ultimate underdogs; the nations that don’t actually exist.

The book charts the stories behind stateless football teams: teams not recognised by Fifa who have subsequently clubbed together to form their own tournament, the CONIFA World Football Cup. Chris Deeley tells their stories in his own distinct, quirky and funny voice.

Available to buy from Amazon for £9.09

You can’t beat a classic. Esteemed writer Nick Hornby’s cult book about the trials and tribulations of following Arsenal is a must read, perfectly encapsulating the maddening love and frustration of being a football fan.

The funny, relatable book explores the obsessiveness of everybody’s love for their football team, and Hornby writes how his love for the Gunners remains the one constant in a life of changing complications.

Available from Amazon for £7.40

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Glasgow and Dublin at risk of being dropped as Euro 2020 host cities

Glasgow and Dublin are at risk of being dropped from the list of host cities for Euro 2020 due to the strict Covid-19 regulations in the two countries.

The cities are two of 12 locations being used for this summer’s rescheduled European Championships, alongside Amsterdam, Baku, Bilbao, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Rome and St Petersburg.

Glasgow’s Hampden Park and Dublin’s Aviva Stadium are each supposed to host four games during the tournament: three group stage fixtures and one last 16 tie.

However, according to BBC Sport, the pair are at risk of being cut from the pool of host cities as they are yet to provide assurances that supporters will be permitted back in stadiums in time for the tournament’s June start date.

The tournament kicks off on 11 June at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, and Uefa wants each host nation to submit their plans – including detailing the return of fans – by 7 April.

Despite domestic games across Europe all currently being played behind closed doors as a result of the pandemic, Uefa are keen to ensure that stadiums at the European Championships are 25% full.

Both the Irish and Scottish governments are taking a stricter approach to Covid-19 than the other Euro 2020 host nations. The Irish government’s restrictions on supporters will remain in place until 5 April.

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Dublin’s Aviva Stadium is scheduled to host four games | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

The British government have pencilled in up to 10,000 spectators returning to stadiums in England in mid-May, and unlimited numbers from 21 June. However, this does not apply to stadiums in Scotland.

London’s Wembley Stadium is due to host seven matches at the tournament, including the semi finals and finals. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had offered to host the whole thing, but logistically this appears unlikely. However, the capital could be trusted with more games if current host cities can no longer host their scheduled fixtures.

According to the Daily Mail, Bilbao is also at risk of being dropped from the list of host cities due to similar concerns to that of Glasgow and Dublin.

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There’s no guarantee Tariq Lamptey would be an upgrade on Hector Bellerin for Arsenal

Hector Bellerin has long divided the Arsenal faithful. His form might fluctuate, but the fact that the likes of Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain are said to have a serious interest in his services should highlight that at least on the continent, he is held in much higher regard.

Arsenal fans shouldn’t take the Spaniard for granted, even though now the Gunners are being linked with Brighton’s Tariq Lamptey, one of the Premier League’s brightest up and coming talents.

There’s excitement over the prospect of Lamptey joining Arsenal, but is there any guarantee he’d be an immediate upgrade at right back?

Lamptey’s performances caught the eye at the start of the season, with his energetic style, blistering pace and effectiveness in the final third earning him praise. However, injuries have limited the 20-year-old to just 11 Premier League appearances since the start of the campaign.

As a buying club, should that be a cause for concern? We’ve seen players transferred for huge sums only to spend most of their time on the sidelines, but that’s one of the risks you take and while you can never guarantee your new signing will stay fit, due diligence must be applied.

Kieran Tierney is the prime example of somebody whose injury record was suspect prior to the club agreeing to spend approximately £25m on him and, unfortunately, the Gunners have had to be without the Scottish defender on numerous occasions this season.

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Lamptey scored against Arsenal’s north London rivals Tottenham earlier this season | JOHN WALTON/Getty Images

The opposite example would be Thomas Partey, who prior to joining the Gunners had experienced very few injury concerns and is now having to be managed very carefully by Mikel Arteta and his team off the back of a number of issues.

As for the player’s ability, Lamptey is clearly talented but potential means nothing if unfulfilled and it wasn’t so long ago that Bellerin was being spoken about as having the makings of a top European star.

Is Lamptey’s ceiling higher than that of the former Barcelona man’s when he first broke into the Arsenal side? I wouldn’t be so sure.

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As a youngster, Bellerin was tipped to go on and become one of world football’s best full-backs | Clive Rose/Getty Images

The 25-year-old has played 232 games for the Arsenal first-team and that experience is invaluable. He’s seen by his manager as one of the team’s leaders and is currently the vice-captain. If the Gunners were to land the Brighton defender it would bode well for the future of the side, particularly given the likelihood of Bellerin moving on, but does he improve Arsenal immediately?

As we’ve seen in the case of the current Arsenal man, in order to achieve the heights that are expected of those who make an impression at a young age, multiple things need to go your way. You need to stay injury-free, play alongside good professionals, be a part of a competent team, work under the right coach and be fully committed to your own development. Unfortunately, some of those things can be out of your control as a footballer and that’s why there are very few guarantees of success.

Taking into consideration all of the above, there is no guarantee Lamptey would be an upgrade on the Spaniard.

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