Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Euro Champ Qualifying clash between Serbia and Bulgaria, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Knowing a point would be enough to secure their spot at Euro 2024, Serbia tackle rock-bottom Bulgaria in Sunday’s Group G finale.
The Eagles can even seal a top-two place with defeat at Stadion Dubocica, should Montenegro fail to beat group leaders Hungary. ...Click Here To Continue Reading>>
Bidding to reach the European Championship finals for the first time since parting ways with Montenegro – following four failed attempts – Serbia sit second in Group G of the current qualifying process and are within touching distance of booking a place in Germany next summer.
With 13 points on the board from seven matches, Dragan Stojkovic’s side only trail already-qualified Hungary in the standings, but still need a point to be sure of progress after their Montenegrin rivals beat Lithuania in midweek.
Last month’s crucial 3-1 win over the Brave Falcons put Serbia in the driving seat, as an Aleksandar Mitrovic brace and Dusan Tadic’s 77th-minute strike not only secured victory but also opened up a five-point gap between the two neighbouring nations.
As a result, the Eagles also boast a better head-to-head record versus their bitter foes from across the border, so they are strong favourites to claim a top-two finish – particularly with Montenegro facing a tough test against Hungary in Budapest.
As group winners in the most recent UEFA Nations League, Serbia are guaranteed at least a place in the upcoming playoffs, but with qualification in their own hands they will be keen to finish the job on home soil this weekend.
Stojkovic and co prepared for the task by visiting Belgium for a friendly on Wednesday, which they lost 1-0, but after a much-changed side succumbed in Brussels, Sunday’s hosts will be back at full tilt against Bulgaria.
Picking up one of just three points gleaned from their Group G campaign to date, Bulgaria came within moments of upsetting Serbia in June’s reverse fixture, but Darko Lazovic levelled the scores deep into stoppage time and salvaged a 1-1 draw for the away side.
Indeed, Ilian Iliev’s squad have gone without winning through the process so far, and they only have one more chance to put that right before wrapping up another failed qualification campaign.
Iliev took charge after the Bulgarian Football Union parted company with Mladen Krstajic last month, following a nine-game winless run, and is sharing his time between coaching the national team and continuing his role as Cherno More manager.
Bulgaria have not appeared at a major tournament since 2004, and it had long been known that would not change this time around before they played their penultimate Euro 2024 qualifier in Sofia, where an eventful clash with Hungary was played behind closed doors amid violent protests outside.
Spas Delev hauled the Lions level after they had fallen behind early on, and Kiril Despodov’s second-half spot-kick seemed set to earn them a 2-1 victory; however, Hungary struck again in the seventh minute of stoppage time, when an Aleks Petkov own goal saw the spoils shared.
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Serbia form (all competitions):
Bulgaria Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Bulgaria form (all competitions):
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Serbia named an unfamiliar starting XI against Belgium in midweek, but with a point still required to confirm direct qualification from Group G, they will revert to full strength on Sunday afternoon.
Dragan Stojkovic is without midfield maestro Sergej Milinkovic-Savic due to injury, but the latter’s Al-Hilal teammate Aleksandar Mitrovic, his brother Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, and captain Dusan Tadic should all be promoted from the bench.
The Eagles’ all-time leading scorer – with 57 goals at international level – Mitrovic has also netted 17 times in as many appearances for his new club so far this season; therefore, Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic is set to make way.
Meanwhile, Darko Lazovic – who scored Serbia’s late equaliser in Razgrad earlier this year – was among several players cut from the hosts’ preliminary squad last week.
Bulgaria must make do without suspended defender Valentin Antov, following his first-half dismissal against Hungary on Thursday night.
Cherno More centre-back Zhivko Atanasov – coached by Ilian Iliev in domestic football – is most likely to deputise at the heart of the visitors’ back line.
Starting on the right of a probable front three, captain Kiril Despodov is the Lions’ leading scorer in Euro 2024 qualification with two goals, and the PAOK forward’s overall international tally of 11 is more than twice that of any other active Bulgaria player.
Serbia possible starting lineup:V. Milinkovic-Savic; Milenkovic, Veljkovic, Pavlovic; Zivkovic, Gudelj, Lukic, Kostic; Djuricic, Tadic; Mitrovic
Bulgaria possible starting lineup:Naumov; Popov, Atanasov, Petkov, Nedyalkov; Gruev, Chochev, Krastev; Despodov, Delev, Ivanov
We say: Serbia 3-1 Bulgaria
There is a significant gulf in class between these two teams, albeit Serbia needed a last-gasp leveller to avoid defeat in Bulgaria. Set to confirm their trip to Germany in style, the home side should certainly score more than once in Leskovac, given the depth of attacking talent available to them.For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.
Our expert tipster partners at Sporita.com are predicting a home win in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Home Win:data
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Newcastle United rise to fifth with deserved win over Manchester United
Newcastle United jump to fifth in the Premier League table with a deserved 1-0 win over Manchester United at St James’ Park.
Newcastle United made it three successive wins against Manchester United in all tournaments for the first time in over 100 years with a deserved 1-0 Premier League victory over the tepid Red Devils at St James’ Park.
A succession of chances came and went for Eddie Howe’s men in the first half, but Man United’s luck ran out when Anthony Gordon fired home early in the second half to sink Erik ten Hag’s team – who were second best all afternoon – although a concerning injury to Nick Pope partially marred the Magpies’ success.
While a decimated Newcastle side put out the exact same XI from their Champions League draw with Paris Saint-Germain, a handful of changes from Ten Hag saw Anthony Martial, Kobbie Mainoo, Diogo Dalot and the returning Marcus Rashford come into the fold....Click Here To Continue Reading>>
However, Ten Hag’s alterations did little to stem the flow of a rampant Newcastle, who saw almost all of the ball in the opening stages and came close in the 18th minute through Miguel Almiron, but Andre Onana was equal to his low effort.
Alexander Isak and Jamaal Lascelles both came close in the few moments that followed; the former had a strike deflected wide by Harry Maguire before Lascelles headed over the bar, which was then shaking in the 40th minute as Kieran Trippier’s free kick landed just an inch too high.
Newcastle’s shot counter displayed a whopping 14 as the referee’s whistle blew to signal half time, but Man United’s clean sheet remained intact, mainly thanks to their hosts’ wastefulness in the final third.
Any harsh half-time words from Ten Hag clearly did not have the desired effect, as Newcastle finally made one of their many forays forward pay in the 55th minute, where Gordon gave the hosts a fully merited lead.
The sloppy Red Devils were punished for losing the ball in the defensive third, allowing Trippier to flash a low ball across the six-yard box, where Gordon was on hand to tap home at the back post.
The ex-Everton man’s opener saw him stretch his St James’ Park scoring streak to four successive Premier League matches, and Ten Hag responded by calling upon Antony and Rasmus Hojlund in place of the ineffective Martial and Rashford.
Man United’s alterations did little to spark any life into the meek visitors, who were indebted to Aaron Wan-Bissaka for making a crucial block to deny Lewis Miley in the 78th minute, but it was Fabian Schar’s turn to deny Sergio Reguilon from scoring a sensational volley with a terrific block of his own four minutes later.
As Pope dived to meet Reguilon’s blocked shot, though, the Newcastle number one injured himself and stayed down as Man United built their next attack, which was stopped in its tracks to allow the stricken Pope to receive treatment.
The Englishman was able to rise to his feet, but he was evidently struggling with his shoulder and slowly trudged off to be replaced by ex-Man United loanee Martin Dubravka.
The Newcastle number two had only been on the field a few moments before an Antony volley flew past him and into the back of the net, but Maguire – whom the ball took a nick off – was in an offside position, and the linesman’s flag came to the hosts’ rescue.
The Red Devils were granted nine minutes of additional time to try to find a leveller, but Newcastle stood firm to leapfrog their visitors into fifth spot in the table, bumping Ten Hag’s men down to seventh in the process.
Newcastle have four full days to rest up before a trip to Everton on Thursday, while Man United will return to their Old Trafford headquarters to meet Chelsea on Wednesday.
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Kobbie Mainoo ‘set to double Manchester United wages’
Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo is reportedly set to double his wages at Old Trafford on account of becoming a first-team regular for Erik ten Hag....Click Here To Continue Reading>>
Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo is reportedly set to double his wages at Old Trafford following his first-team breakthrough.
The 18-year-old is regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the Red Devils’ setup but was denied the chance to make an impression in the early stages of the 2023-24 campaign due to an ankle injury sustained in pre-season.
Mainoo took months to recover from the affliction, but the teenager has since exited the treatment room and was trusted by Erik ten Hag from the first whistle in last weekend’s 3-0 Premier League win over Everton.
Mainoo – who made his debut for the Red Devils against Charlton Athletic in a January EFL Cup clash – received high praise for a performance well beyond his years and was then brought off the bench for his Champions League debut against Galatasaray a few days later.
Sofyan Amrabat was given the nod in Europe instead of Mainoo, but the Fiorentina loanee was overlooked for the youngster in Saturday’s trip to Newcastle United, where the Red Devils fell to a 1-0 defeat.
Amid Man United’s indifferent form on the field and protracted takeover saga, Mainoo has been a shining light for the 20-time English champions, and his rapid rise is now set to be rewarded.
According to the Daily Star, Mainoo is currently on a modest £10,000 per week at the Theatre of Dreams, but his salary will soon double to £20,000 per week owing to a clause in his contract.
Back in February, the Red Devils tied the 2005-born lynchpin down to a new long-term deal until the end of the 2026-27 campaign, with the option of an additional 12 months.
Rather than Man United agreeing another fresh deal with Mainoo, the midfielder’s existing terms apparently include a clause stipulating that his wages will double in size once he becomes a first-team regular.
The report adds that Mainoo’s salary increase has not been triggered just yet, but he is “close” to taking home an extra £10,000 per week, and he would already be on a higher wage had he not spent a couple of months in the treatment room.
The 18-year-old – who has been with the club since the age of nine – completed 80 minutes of Saturday’s showdown with Newcastle, which was his sixth first-team appearance for the Red Devils.
However, Mainoo and his Man United teammates were run ragged by Newcastle, who deservedly picked up a 1-0 win in freezing temperatures thanks to a second-half Anthony Gordon goal.
Having also been beaten by the Magpies in this year’s EFL Cup and a 2-0 loss at St James’ Park in the 2022-23 Premier League, Man United have now suffered three successive defeats to Newcastle in all competitions for the first time since January 1922.
The Red Devils’ sixth league loss of the season has bumped them down to seventh place in the Premier League table, and the visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford is next up for Ten Hag’s troops on Wednesday.
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Xavi reveals he wanted to sign Alvaro Morata for Barcelona
Barcelona head coach Xavi reveals that he was keen on bringing Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata to Camp Nou....Click Here To Continue Reading>>
Barcelona head coach Xavi has revealed that he was keen on bringing Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata to Camp Nou.
For the past one-and-a-half seasons, the Blaugrana line has been led by Robert Lewandowski, who topped the La Liga scoring charts with 23 strikes en route to the top-flight title last season.
The former Bayern Munich man has already managed a respectable seven goals in the current top-flight campaign, although four players have netted more, including 11-goal leader Jude Bellingham of Real Madrid.
With a total of 27 strikes from 14 matches so far, Barcelona are the lowest scorers inside the top five of the La Liga table and have a seven-point gap to make up to Real Madrid and Girona.
Xavi’s side did strengthen their attack over the summer with the loan capture of Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid, while Raphinha, Ferran Torres and 16-year-old Lamine Yamal are alternative options in the final third.
However, Lewandowski is the only out-and-out senior centre-forward at the club, and speaking to reporters at a recent press conference, Xavi revealed that conversations were held with Morata.
The Barca boss waxed lyrical about Morata’s individual qualities and “world-class” connection with Antoine Griezmann, but he conceded that a summer transfer was not feasible.
“It’s true that I wanted to sign him. There was that possibility. I was talking to him and I wanted him in the team, but it couldn’t happen,” Goal quotes Xavi as saying.
“He’s a forward that I really like. Morata is a great forward. He is a generous footballer, who works a lot for the team, he works a lot.
“He goes very well into spaces and helps his teams a lot. I really like him a lot. With him and with [Antoine] Griezmann, Atletico has a world-class forward line.”
The well-travelled Morata has struggled to settle at various clubs throughout his career, enduring mixed spells with Real Madrid and Chelsea, who sent him on loan to Atletico for 18 months in 2019.
The 31-year-old’s switch to Wanda Metropolitano was made permanent for £30m that same summer, but he was loaned back out to Juventus for two years and missed the majority of Atletico’s 2020-21 La Liga title triumph.
However, Morata amassed a respectable 15 goals in all tournaments for Diego Simeone’s team last season and has begun the 2023-24 campaign strongly with 12 goals and three assists from 17 matches.
The Spain international has come up with a joint-high five goals in this season’s Champions League, level with Manchester City’s Erling Haaland and Manchester United’s Rasmus Hojlund, and his total for Atletico now stands at 49 goals and 12 assists from 123 games.
Morata’s contract with Atletico runs until the summer of 2026, and the striker will pit his wits against Barcelona in Sunday’s blockbuster La Liga clash at Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys.
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