Xavi reveals ‘love’ for ‘spectacular’ Sergio Ramos

Barcelona head coach Xavi has admitted he ‘loves’ former Spain teammate Sergio Ramos despite his associations with Real Madrid.

Ramos made his first appearance against Barca since leaving Los Blancos – for whom he made 671 appearances and won 22 trophies – in 2021 as part of the Sevilla side that travelled to the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys on Friday night.

That match turned into a disaster for Ramos, who scored the decisive own goal late on as Barcelona prevailed 1-0 and maintained their unbeaten start to La Liga’s new season.

Xavi was asked about the 37-year-old in his post-match press conference and the Barca boss reserved praise for the veteran defender.

“Sergio Ramos is a spectacular defender. It’s incredible to see him at the top level at his age. He’s a great professional and I wish him all the best. He was unlucky to score an own goal today, but I love him a lot,” Xavi said.

Lamine Yamal, Sergio RamosLamine Yamal, Sergio Ramos

Barcelona profited from Ramos’ misfortune / Alex Caparros/GettyImages

Barcelona were wasteful in the final third and goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen admitted his side were ‘very lucky’ to come away with the three points, but Xavi insisted the performance was pleasing.

“We created chances, we felt comfortable against a great team. We’re happy and satisfied, but we must improve our finishing,” he added.

“We created many chances and attacked well. I think it has been one of our best matches, but we’re frustrated because we didn’t score earlier.

“We played great football against Sevilla, who are the champions of the Europa League.”


Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal squad ‘won his heart’ with Kai Havertz decision

Mikel Arteta admitted his Arsenal squad “won his heart” by giving Kai Havertz the chance to score his first goal for the club in the 4-0 thrashing of Bournemouth on Saturday.

The Gunners were cruising at half-time thanks to Bukayo Saka’s opener and Martin Odegaard’s 44th-minute penalty.

Odegaard himself was felled by Ryan Christie to gift the visitors a second spot-kick. Instead of the Norwegian or Saka, Havertz took the penalty and sent Cherries goalie Neto the wrong way to put Arsenal 3-0 up.

Ben White later rounded off the scoring in second-half injury time, though it was the spirit of his squad that drew Arteta’s praise rather than the quality of performance.

Speaking about Havertz after the game, the Spaniard said: “[He’s] someone that is going through a period externally – not internally but externally – that he’s getting questioned in certain areas. For the team to step up and show that empathy and that trust towards him, they won my heart today, that group of players.

“As a manager I’m more proud of this than the victory because this is what you try to build – the culture and environment that they support each other, have their backs and enjoy what we are doing.”

Kai Havertz, Oleksandr ZinchenkoKai Havertz, Oleksandr Zinchenko

Havertz finally scored his first Arsenal goal / Christopher Lee/GettyImages

Havertz was a £65m arrival from Chelsea during the summer transfer window but has struggled to perform during the early weeks of the season, going nine games with a goal for his new side before striking at the Vitality Stadium.

Arteta added: “It’s worth it, it’s real and it’s not forced. They made the decision and showed the leadership without me even telling them so that’s much more powerful.

“And thank you to our supporters, because the way they have supported our team and Kai – it is going to mean the world to him. Thank you so much.”

Arsenal’s title hopes were boosted by Manchester City’s surprise 2-1 loss at Wolves and they now sit just a point behind the reigning champions, level with Tottenham after Spurs controversially beat Liverpool.


Five takeaways from Man Utd’s dismal defeat to Crystal Palace

The last time Manchester United started a league season with four defeats from their first seven games, one fan unsheathed an infamous banner calling for Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.

If United continue to limp through the season, it can’t be too much longer before bed sheets begin to appear with “Ta Ra Ten Hag” scrawled across them.

Saturday’s dismal 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace, a smattering of days after beating the same opposition on the same ground in the Carabao Cup, left Man Utd mired in the ignominy of mid-table.

Here are the key takeaways from another afternoon most in Manchester would rather forget.

Erik ten HagErik ten Hag

The heat is beginning to be cranked up on Erik ten Hag / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

The volley of boos that rained down upon United at full-time naturally attracted headlines but it was an absence of noise that proved just as instructive. An eery hush descended across Old Trafford as Eberechi Eze lined up a first-half free-kick, almost as if the crowd saw Joachim Andersen’s crisp opener coming – they were certainly more aware of the imminent threat than the muddled bodies in red (theoretically) defending the set piece.

“I understand,” Ten Hag shrugged when confronted with the crowd’s boos. “We play at home, we play Crystal Palace – we have to win, with all respect. I know every Premier League game is difficult but fans expect a win and we didn’t win. We lost.”

The first flickers of descent emerged during United’s humbling against Brighton on the same ground two weeks earlier. During that far more convincing 3-1 reverse, the crowd voiced their fervent disapproval of Ten Hag’s decision to substitute striker Rasmus Hojlund while United chased a goal. If results don’t pick up soon, the antipathy will continue to swell.

Sofyan AmrabatSofyan Amrabat

Sofyan Amrabat started his first game for Manchester United at left-back on Saturday / Sebastian Frej/MB Media/GettyImages

Much has been made of Sofyan Amrabat’s experience of playing under Ten Hag at FC Utrecht – even by the player himself upon his unveiling – but the Dutch coach seems to have only remembered a brief snippet of their time together on either side of summer 2016.

Amrabat made half a century of appearances under Ten Hag in the Netherlands including three on the left side of defence. On each occasion, Utrecht failed to earn a single win or clean sheet. None of Amrabat’s other coaches have ever shoehorned the right-footer onto his unnatural side but injury has forced Ten Hag’s hand this term.

The natural defensive midfielder regularly stepped into midfield when United had possession but was repeatedly unnerved when Jordan Ayew – hardly the division’s premier wide man – ran at him.

Marcus RashfordMarcus Rashford

Marcus Rashford was a peripheral figure against Crystal Palace / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

There’s no secret to Marcus Rashford’s success – he reminds everyone each time he scores and points to his temple. The 25-year-old forward put the most prolific campaign of his career last term down to being in “a better headspace”.

As arguably the most high-profile figure at Manchester United, the off-pitch turmoil that has swamped the club this season cannot have helped Rashford centre his mind. The England international was himself involved in a minor car crash last weekend, emerging physically unscathed but to a torrent of ridiculous criticism for the cost of the vehicle he was driving.

Only two players in Europe’s top five leagues have attempted more shots than Rashford this season yet he only has one goal to his name.

Patience and some compassion will be key – which Ten Hag seems to be preaching. “He knows he can do better and I am sure it will come,” the manager insisted. “He works hard. He will net and it will come but it is not going to be automatic. The team has to invest a lot around him.”

Alejandro GarnachoAlejandro Garnacho

Alejandro Garnacho took nine touches in Palace’s box in just half an hour / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

Ten Hag has two pictures of Johan Cruyff in his office and clearly agrees with the legendary Dutchman’s antagonistic tactics to get the best out of his players.

Prior to Palace’s second visit to Old Trafford, Ten Hag bluntly assessed that Alejandro Garnacho’s previous starts were “not good enough”. The electric teenager came off the bench on Saturday with a point to prove, injecting some much-needed energy into the team’s flagging frontline.

In just 30 minutes, Garnacho took nine touches in Palace’s box – more than all but one of his teammates who started the contest. Surely he will be in line for a start against Galatasaray in midweek.

Bruno FernandesBruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes didn’t find a way past Crystal Palace / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

United boasted more than three-quarters of possession but only forced Palace’s goalkeeper Sam Johnstone into three saves throughout. Roy Hodgson’s visitors didn’t surprise anyone by ceding possession and coiling into a tight rearguard before springing forward on the counter but United had few answers.

Ten Hag blamed his entire team’s decision-making after watching his side again struggle to break down a low block. “We get into the right spot and then you have to make the right decisions to create more,” the manager sighed. “I think we created many occasions in front of the goal but we had to net and we didn’t. We can only blame ourselves.”

That familiar feeling of frustration will dog United for as long as they fail to construct a clear plan in possession.


The Liverpool games Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota will miss with suspensions

Liverpool took their red card tally to four in only seven Premier League games after both Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota were sent off during their 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

The Reds finished with nine men in north London as a last-minute Joel Matip own goal denied Jurgen Klopp’s side a point. Son Heung-min had given Tottenham the lead before Cody Gakpo’s late first-half equaliser, while Luis Diaz also saw a goal wrongly ruled out for offside.

Liverpool will now be without Jones and Jota as a result of their dismissals, both of which Klopp thought were harsh decisions that went against his side. Adding to a potentially nasty injury for goalscorer Gakpo, their absences could prove costly for the Reds.

So, what games will Jones and Jota miss for Liverpool?

Diogo Jota, Simon HooperDiogo Jota, Simon Hooper

Jota picked up two quick bookings / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Jota received two yellow cards in the second half, the first for a trip on Destiny Udogie – although it appeared the full-back tripped himself – and the second for a late tackle on the Spurs defender.

As a result, Jota will miss just one game for two bookable offences. That will come in the Reds’ next Premier League match when they travel to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday 8 October.

Liverpool do face Union Saint-Gilloise in the Europa League on Thursday, but as Jota’s ban is a domestic suspension, he will be available for the visit of the Belgian side.

Simon Hooper, Curtis JonesSimon Hooper, Curtis Jones

Jones and Jota could be big misses for Klopp / Ryan Pierse/GettyImages

Jones’ suspension, however, will likely be longer. As he received a straight red card due to ‘serious foul play’, the midfielder will serve a three-match ban, providing Liverpool don’t appeal the decision.

Jones will also miss the trip to the Amex next Sunday, as well as the Merseyside derby against Everton and the visit of Nottingham Forest in the Premier League after the international break.

Luckily for Klopp, almost all of his first-team squad are currently available. Trent Alexander-Arnold returned to action from the bench against Tottenham, meaning only Thiago and young Conor Bradley are currently sidelined, although Gakpo may join them in the treatment room.


Referees at fault for Luis Diaz blunder removed from Premier League appointments

The two assistant referees who caused chaos in Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool on Saturday night have been removed from further officiating duties this weekend.

Referees’ body PGMOL admitted a ‘significant human error’ meant Luis Diaz’s strike in the 34th minute was wrongly disallowed for offside with the game set at 0-0.

The Reds had seen Curtis Jones sent off for a foul on Yves Bissouma before Diogo Jota was dismissed in the second half for two yellow cards in quick succession. Joel Matip’s 96th-minute own goal meant Tottenham nicked all three points after earlier strikes from Son Heung-min and Cody Gakpo.

An error in communication from VAR Darren England and assistant VAR Dan Cook saw on-field referee Simon Hooper chalk off Diaz’s strike despite the Colombia international clearly being onside before finishing.

Virgil van Dijk, Luis Diaz, Simon Hooper, Curtis JonesVirgil van Dijk, Luis Diaz, Simon Hooper, Curtis Jones

Liverpool couldn’t catch a break at Tottenham / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

The two officials have now been removed from further duties in gameweek seven. England will not be the fourth official on Sunday when Brentford visit Nottingham Forest, while Cook won’t run the line in Monday’s west London derby between Fulham and Chelsea.

A statement from PGMOL reads: “Darren England and Dan Cook have been replaced for the Nottingham Forest v Brentford and Fulham v Chelsea matches. Craig Pawson will now assume England’s duties as 4th official at City Ground while Eddie Smart will take over from Cook as assistant ref at Craven Cottage.”

PGMOL confirmed on Saturday a “full review” will be conducted into how Diaz’s goal was disallowed, though the statement didn’t draw the most enthusiastic response from wronged Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.

He said: “I don’t think we should talk too much about that because it doesn’t help at all.

“Wolves got a similar statement, or apology. They didn’t get a point out of United and we won’t get a point today so it doesn’t help.”