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Well done Rafa – Newcastle’s prodigious new 23-year-old would guide them to Premier League safety this season

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Why Antonio Barreca is a good move for Newcastle United

Newcastle United made a couple of big moves on the January transfer deadline day, as they completed the signing of left-back Antonio Barreca on loan from French Ligue 1 outfit AS Monaco. They also broke their long-standing transfer record, by shelling out £20million to sign playmaker Miguel Almiron from MLS club Atlanta United. (h/t BBC Sport)

The importance of signing Barreca on loan until the end of the season cannot be overlooked. Newcastle had Paul Dummett as the only out-and-out option in the left-back role. Ever since the Welshman has been injured, Benitez was forced to use winger Matt Ritchie on the left-side of his defence.

While the Scotsman has done a sterling job in his makeshift position, there is no taking away the fact that his talents are much better utilized higher up the pitch. Ayoze Perez and Christian Atsu haven’t been able to make the desired impact from the wings. Thus, bringing in Barreca allows the manager to reinstate Ritchie in his natural role further up the field while being able to rely on a proper left-back in defence.

The Italian came through the youth ranks of hometown club Torino and signed his first professional deal with the club in 2014. In his first season as a professional player, he was loaned out to Serie B side Cittadella, where he shone bright, scoring once and setting up eight goals in 39 appearances.

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Following that, he was farmed out on loan to Cagliari in the Italian second division in 2015/16, where he once again made a solid impression, helping the club to promotion to the Serie A. The following season, he finally made his debut for Torino and went on to establish himself as a regular at a very young age of 21. He made 30 appearances in his debut season, setting up two goals.

However, the 2017/18 campaign turned out to be a difficult one for him, as he was constantly disrupted by injuries, meaning he just made nine first-team appearances. That did not dissuade AS Monaco from investing in him in the last summer window.

Having joined the Ligue 1 outfit, Barreca started out well and went on to make nine appearances under Leonardo Jardim, making two assists, but was frozen out of the squad following the appointment of Thierry Henry. The Italian’s previous Ligue 1 appearance for the Principality-based outfit came in October last year.

While Barreca might not have played a lot in recent months, the 23-year-old is a young and talented defender, who, despite his young age, has gathered a lot of experience. The left-back performed admirably in his debut season in the Serie A and has shone at the international level for the Italy U21 side as well, for whom he has already featured 13 times.

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Read More: Newcastle shouldn’t think twice about beating Fulham to sign £4m star – would have a huge say on their season

A solid option at the back, with sound defensive instincts, the Italian also provides a good outlet going forward down the left flank, something which cannot be said about Newcastle’s first-choice left-back Paul Dummett. The 23-year-old is coming in with a point to prove and has the potential to make a big difference, as Newcastle continue their fight to avoid relegation.

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Cardiff City

5 of the biggest upsets in the 2018/19 season of the Premier League

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2018-19 Premier League rewind: A look back at the 5 of the biggest upsets

There was hardly any shortage of drama, excitement and hype in the 2018-19 season of the Premier League, with some mesmerizing individual performances, sheer moments of magic, edge-of-the-seat thrillers and a see-saw title race producing yet another enthralling season of football.

As a matter of fact, it was goals galore all throughout the campaign, as the grand total of 1072 goals made the 2018-19 season the most prolific ever in the history of the Premier League.

In the end, Man City successfully managed to defend their Premier League title, as Pep Guardiola’s side broke Liverpool’s hearts and ensured that the Reds’ pursuit of a first domestic title since 1990 ultimately ended in failure.

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The final day of the campaign ended in ecstasy for the fans at Etihad, while those at Anfield would have felt the pain of falling short by a solitary point despite a valiant effort from their team.

We all know that the Premier League is famous for producing plenty of thrills and spills, which is probably the reason why it is widely acclaimed as the most competitive league in the world.

When we speak about competition, it is expected that the league would also have a touch of unpredictability to it.

The 2018/19 season, indeed, produced some massive upsets, where the lesser teams defied the odds and took everybody by surprise to shock the heavyweights operating in the upper reaches of the competition.

Surprisingly, winners Man City were also at the receiving end of three such upsets; one each at the hands of Leicester City, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United.

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It is true that we have a definitive top-six in the Premier League these days but we witnessed last season that the mid-table teams and even the relegation-threatened sides are more than capable of pulling off surprises on their day. With that in mind, let us revisit those instances when teams defied belief to register the unlikeliest of victories.

1. Leicester City vs Man City- Boxing Day

Leicester City were enduring a rather inconsistent campaign under Claude Puel but the Foxes came into the game high on confidence following a 1-0 victory over Chelsea in their previous outing.

Man City, on the other hand, arrived at the King Power Stadium on the back of a shock 3-2 defeat at the hands of Crystal Palace at home, although Pep Guardiola’s side were the outright favourites to claim all three points against Leicester.

Unsurprisingly, Leicester defended in numbers and got bodies behind the ball as Man City stamped their authority in the opening quarter of the game.

It didn’t take long for them to open the scoring though, as Sergio Aguero played Bernardo Silva behind the Foxes’ backline to set up the Portuguese for an easy finish.

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However, Leicester responded within just four minutes, as Jamie Vardy’s cross found the run of Marcus Albrighton, who outsmarted Fabian Delph with his clever movement and beat Ederson to score the equaliser. Well, you cannot keep Jamie Vardy out of the action, can you? 

Aguero lost his footing numerous times in the final third quite uncharacteristically and Man City failed to score the winner despite enjoying a lot of possession. James Maddison and Hamza Choudhury called Ederson into action a few times but the scores stayed level until the very end.

Some late drama saw Ricardo Pereira fire home a pile driver from just inside the edge of the box to hand Leicester a 2-1 advantage before Man City’s Fabian Delph received the marching orders from the referee.

The game was an eye-opener to all the fans who would have thought that Man City’s loss against Palace was a mere bad day at the office.

2. Man City vs Crystal Palace – 22nd December

Man City had only lost a single game in the Premier League season, which was against Chelsea, when they played host to Crystal Palace at the Etihad on 22nd December and with Roy Hodgson’s side struggling in the lower reaches of the table, the Citizens were the clear favourites.

Pep Guardiola’s side kept Palace under the cosh in the opening stages of the game and Fabian Delph’s cross was headed in by Ilkay Gundogan, who gave City the lead in the 27th minute.

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Palace, however, found an instant reply as Wilfried Zaha’s dazzling run followed by McArthur’s clever pass allowed Jeffrey Schlupp to equalise with a clinical finish.

The match turned out to be closer than expected and a moment of sheer brilliance from Andros Townsend turned the game in Palace’s favour. The former Spurs man put his magical left foot through the ball from a long way outside the box but his thunderous effort evaded the fingertips of Ederson, thus putting Palace 2-1 up before half-time.

Townsend hit the post early in the second half and Max Meyer, in an attempt to score from the rebound, was brought down inside the box by a reckless challenge from Kyle Walker, prompting referee Andre Marriner to point to the penalty spot. Luka Milivojevic buried the penalty kick to give Palace an unlikely 3-1 lead.

De Bruyne made it 3-2 with a cross that luckily sailed over the head of Guaita and Leroy Sane hit the post later on but the Eagles did enough to hold on to their lead for a famous win.

3. Wolves vs Chelsea – 6th December

Premier League newcomers Wolves impressed one and all with their character and resilience but as a matter of fact, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were going through a patchy period when they played host to Chelsea on 6th December.

Wolves came into the game on the back of miserable defeats at the hands of Cardiff City and Huddersfield Town, and the Black Country outfit were under pressure to justify that their flying start to the campaign wasn’t a mere flash in the pan.

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Things didn’t go according to plan for Wolves though, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s powerful effort from 25 yards was headed into his own net by home captain Conor Coady just 18 minutes into the game.

Both teams failed to produce anything spectacular in the first half but Chelsea went into the interval with a 1-0 lead.

However, Wolves staged a remarkable comeback following the restart, as two quick goals from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez in the space of just four minutes proved to be the turning point in the clash.

Wolves ultimately won the game 2-1 and Nuno Santo’s lion-hearted warriors went on to register impressive victories over the likes of Man United, Spurs and Liverpool thereafter. 

4. Newcastle United vs Man City – 31st January

Pep Guardiola sat in the dugout for his 100th Premier League game, as Newcastle United played host to defending champions Man City towards the end of January.

With Man City and Liverpool going hammer and tongs at each other in a bid to get the upper hand in the title race, this was always going to be a must-win game for the Citizens and they were the definitely the strong favourites against Rafael Benitez’s unit.

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And it looked like the travelling fans were in for an absolute feast when Sergio Aguero put the visitors 1-0 ahead just 24 seconds into the game. City dictated the play in the first half and they could have had the second goal just at the stroke of the interval, only for David Silva’s attempt to be blocked by Florian Lejeune.

Man City upped the ante after the restart and Martin Dubravka was called into action numerous times early in the second half, as Sterling, Sane and David Silva all had attempts on goal.

However, in a twist of fate, Newcastle made City pay for their missed chances and equalised in the 66th minute. Salomon Rondon got in front of John Stones and volleyed it straight into the net after a bit of a scramble in the final third.

City went all out in pursuit of the winner but it was Newcastle who had the last laugh and pulled off a massive upset.

Fernandinho’s challenge on Sean Longstaff was deemed worthy of a penalty and Matt Ritchie stepped up to send Ederson the wrong way, thus making it 2-1 with just 10 minutes left to play. The 2-1 victory meant that Newcastle registered their first victory over Man City in the Premier League since 2005.

5. Man United vs Cardiff City – 12th May

Man United thrashed Cardiff City 5-1 in December in what was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game in charge as the caretaker manager of the Red Devils. However, the tides turned dramatically when an already-relegated Cardiff City travelled to Old Trafford to take on United in the final game of the campaign.

Marcus Rashford missed a couple of promising chances and Neil Warnock’s side drew first blood. Diogo Dalot’s rather tame looking challenge on Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was deemed worthy of a penalty by referee Jonathan Moss for some unknown reason and Mendez-Laing stepped up to make it 1-0 from the spot.

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United continued to miss chances and Mason Greenwood saw his shot get tipped on to the post by Neil Etheridge.

Things turned from bad to worse in the second half for United when Josh Murphy picked out Mendez-Laing’s run at the far post with an accurate cross following a dazzling run, and Cardiff took a 2-0 lead.

It didn’t turn out to be a happy outing for Solskjer against his old club, although the Bluebirds ended their campaign on a high. Cardiff City registered their first victory over Man United since 1960 and first at Old Trafford since 1954.

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Arsenal Dragon

5 instances in the PL last season where referees robbed the teams of some valuable points

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5 instances in the PL last season where referees robbed the teams of some valuable points

The 2018-19 season of the Premier League witnessed some horrendous blunders from the referees, as sub-standard officiating continued to tarnish the image of English football.

Several incorrect calls made by the referees and the linesmen last season has strengthened claims that VAR is the need of the hour.

Surprisingly, these refereeing blunders not only took place in the games involving bottom-table teams but the officiating in the fixtures involving title-contending sides also raised a lot of eyebrows.

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The VAR is going to be used in the Premier League from the upcoming season. While that might bring some solace to the fans, it has been seen in the recent past that technology can never be deemed as a complete foolproof.

It is true that the introduction of the VAR in the Premier League would go a long way towards eliminating the blatant errors but in all honesty, the standard of officiating needs to improve significantly in order to bring justice to the reputation of the Premier League being the most competitive league in Europe.

As a matter of fact, some of the incorrect calls made by the referees could have had far-reaching implications as far as the two-way title race between Manchester City and Liverpool was concerned.

With all due respect to whatever Liverpool achieved in the Premier League this past season, it is worth mentioning over here that the Reds got a fair share of some of the 50-50 decisions in their favour, while a few others should never have gone in their favour.

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Well, that is all history now and the fans can look forward to VAR playing a big role in the Premier League next season.

It remains to be seen as to what kind of impact the introduction of technology has in the top-flight next term but it is certainly worth looking back at some of the top blunders made by the referees in the 2018-19 campaign.

1. Ashley Young’s Handball vs Newcastle United

Man United were under pressure to turn their lacklustre season on its head, with manager Jose Mourinho very much under scrutiny following the Red Devils’ unimpressive start to the campaign.

However, it wasn’t the best possible start to the game for the home side, as goals from Robert Kenedy and Yoshinori Muto put Newcastle 2-0 ahead just 10 minutes into the fixture.

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Man United though, managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the second half as goals from Juan Mata and Anthony Martial brought them back on level terms before Alexis Sanchez’s strike in the final seconds of regulation time completed a remarkable 3-2 comeback victory for the Red Devils.

Well, that result could have been so much different had it not been for a massive blunder from referee Anthony Taylor. Ashley Young’s attempted clearance off Jonjo Shelvey’s inch-perfect cross struck him on the arm and went out of play.

Much to the astonishment of the fans, the referee not only denied Newcastle an obvious penalty but he also opted not to point to the corner flag. Forget about a red or a yellow card for the offence.

2. Willy Boly’s hand of god against Man City

Wolves finished the season in the Europa League qualification spot with an envious record against the big-six sides in the Premier League. However, they got extremely lucky in the 1-1 draw against Man City at Molineux in the earlier stages of the campaign.

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Willy Boly threw his body on the line to make some sort of a connection from a cross and scored with what appeared to be a wonderful diving header, thus giving Wolves the lead in the 57th minute.

However, replays showed clearly that the ball actually came off his arm and beat Ederson in goal.

Aymeric Laporte equalised late on to rescue a point for City, however, one cannot help but feel that the Citizens were robbed of two crucial points, thanks to some incorrect officiating.

Wolves definitely deserved to get at least a point to show for their lion-hearted effort but scoring with the hand is never acceptable in football.

3. Dejan Lovren’s challenge on Sergio Aguero 

Excitements levels were crossing all limits when Liverpool played host to defending champions Man City on 7th October given that both the teams were unbeaten at that point of the season.

The game, which did turn out to be a fiercely contested one, ultimately poured cold water on the expectations and ended as a 0-0 stalemate but there was no shortage of drama over the course of the ninety minutes.

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The memories of Riyad Mahrez’s missed penalty in the dying stages of the game is likely to be fresh in the memories of the fans but as a matter of fact, City should have had two penalties in that game.

Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot for Virgil van Dijk’s foul on Leroy Sane in the second half but Lovren’s challenge on Aguero in the first half was deemed unworthy of a penalty for some unknown reason.

Aguero did go down softly but he was well within his rights to go down given that Lovren didn’t get a part of the ball and definitely got some part of the striker in his attempted tackle.

4. Man City vs Burnley 

There was not one but as many as three blunders in Man City’s 5-0 victory over Burnley on 20th October and referee Jonathan Moss was the culprit. Vincent Kompany’s challenge on Aaron Lennon only earned him a booking but in all honesty, that should have been a straight red card.

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Cynical or not, a high boot challenge with the studs pointing upwards is nothing short of a sending off and the referee got that one horribly wrong, much to the disappointment of Sean Dyche on the sidelines.

That, however, was not the only incorrect call that went in City’s favour in that particular game. Bernardo Silva’s goal to make it 2-0 should not have stood as David Silva was very much in an offside position when he supplied the assist with a picture-perfect cross.

Neither the linesman on the far side nor Jonathan Moss seemed to spot that and that was the beginning of an absolute rampage from City.

Leroy Sane’s challenge on Matthew Lowton towards the end of the game, though not as dangerous as the one Kompany made on Lennon, was also worthy of a red card only for Moss to spare the German with a booking.

The winger was clearly late on the challenge and replays showed that he never really made an attempt to go for the ball.

5. Sadio Mane’s disallowed goal vs Arsenal

Liverpool and Arsenal played out an enthralling 1-1 draw at the Emirates on 3rd December but the outcome of the game could have been so much different had referee Andre Marriner not ruled out Sadio Mane’s goal for an offside. 

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Trent Alexander Arnold’s cross into the box found Roberto Firmino, whose shot came back off the post before Mane found the net with a simple tap-in.

That, however, was deemed as an offside against the Senegalese international, although replays showed clearly that he was in a clean position when he put the ball into the net.

It is true that he did initially take a step towards the ball before Firmino had his shot but that doesn’t really count as offside.

The rulebook clearly states that an offside call can only be made when a player himself plays the ball, attempts to play the ball or obstructs the opposition while standing in an offside position. Mane’s slight movement had nothing to do with any of those clauses.

James Milner’s goal was cancelled out by Lacazette’s strike but Liverpool would probably have claimed three points had Mane’s goal stood.

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Newcastle Dragon

Newcastle United signing this €35m-rated midfielder starring in the Ligue 1 would help them soar to greater heights

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Newcastle United Opinion: Why the Magpies should go for Morgan Sanson?

According to a report from France Football, Newcastle United, West Ham and Wolves have been offered the chance to sign Marseille midfield ace, Morgan Sanson.

Marseille are willing to listen to offers for some of their players after they failed to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Sanson, who the Ligue 1 outfit value at around €35m, bagged five goals and three assists in 33 games last season.

That being said, Newcastle must attempt to beat the likes of Wolves and West Ham to the signing of Sanson.

Rafael Benitez is out of contract at the end of this month and it’s important for the Magpies board to sort out the manager’s future first before jumping on to signing players this summer.

Although Newcastle were relegated when Benitez first took charge, he led them to automatic promotion in his first attempt, before 10th and 13th placed finishes in the Premier League. Should the Spaniard commits his future at St. James’ Park, his aim will be to help the club break into the top 10 next term.

Newcastle already broke their transfer record in the January transfer window by signing Miguel Almiron from Atalanta United and they’ll need to stump up more cash to help the manager achieve the objectives. The board has to be ambitious if they want to see the Magpies improve next term, with the midfield and attacking department requiring bolstering.

Isaac Hayden and Jonjo Shelvey’s future remain up in the air, while Newcastle have released Mohamed Diame. Sean Longstaff broke into the team last season before an injury curtailed his progress. Ki Sung-yeung is a decent player but Benitez needs more creativity and energy from midfield to ease the burden from his forwards.

That makes Morgan Sanson such a brilliant fit at Newcastle. Sanson has been a consistent performer in Ligue 1 in recent years and is a versatile player that is adept at operating in different positions across the midfield.

A very good passer of the ball, the Frenchman can be an attacking threat and at the same time produce the goods from a defensive aspect.

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The 24-year-old can dribble with the ball from deep, drive his team forward and also come up with crucial goals. He’d add creativity, energy and thrust to a Newcastle midfield which has often looked a little one-paced in recent times.

Benitez would certainly love a player of Sanson’s qualities and expect the Frenchman to deliver consistently at St. James’ Park.

Verdict

Newcastle need quality players all over the pitch and signing the versatile Sanson would represent a massive coup.

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