Joel Matip to return for Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace

Cameroon’s Joel Matip will ‘hopefully’ be part of the Liverpool team that will trade tackles with Crystal Palace in Monday’s Premier League encounter, according to the Reds’ boss Jurgen Klopp.

Last month, the Cameroon international limped off the pitch with a minor muscle tear during the team’s pre-season encounter against Borussia Dortmund in the International Champions Cup.

The injury saw him leave their tour of the United States, thus, missing the team’s remaining two games.

Kloop has revealed during his pre-match press conference early this afternoon that the centre-back is expected to return to the squad on Monday for the clash against the Eagles.

“Joel [Matip] is close to being back. Hopefully he is able to be in the squad on Monday, so then we will have him,” Klopp told the club website.

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And considering that fellow centre-back Dejan Lovren is still out due to the pelvic injury he had been carrying for few months, the Cameroonian’s return seems to be well-timed.

The defender will hope to retain his full fitness when Liverpool travel to slug it out with Crystal Palace in the English top-flight at the Selhurst Park on August 20.

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Bayern & Tottenham target Pavard better off at Stuttgart – Reschke

Benjamin Pavard remains fully committed to Stuttgart despite his obvious potential to play at the highest level, according to club sporting director Michael Reschke.

The versatile defender reportedly attracted interest from Bayern Munich and Tottenham in the aftermath of an excellent World Cup for France.

Bayern boss Niko Kovac admitted he was a fan of the 22-year-old, but talk of a potential move to Bavaria has quietened as the new Bundesliga season draws near.

Reschke is confident Pavard will stay at Stuttgart for the upcoming campaign, citing stability as important for the former Lille man.

“Benji is a player for the big clubs, sure,” the former Bayern technical director told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

“But another year in Stuttgart will do him some good. He will continue to mature here.

“The fact that he came back from vacation early, that he is already a totally positive part of the team, speaks for itself.”

Pavard, who joined Stuttgart in August 2016, started 34 top-flight matches last term.

He featured in six of France’s seven games in Russia, with his superb volley in the last-16 win over Argentina being voted goal of the tournament.

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Pavard earned special praise from France boss Didier Deschamps after the competition, saying: “Benjamin has become a star and he deserves it.

“He’s not so media-focused. He’s very friendly, appreciated by his team-mates, and has an incredible amount of self-confidence.

“He once said to me: ‘I’m not afraid of anyone!’ So I told him: ‘You can think that, but never say it to the media’.”

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Courtois not guaranteed to be first choice at Real Madrid, warns Lopetegui

Thibaut Courtois is not certain to be an automatic starter at Real Madrid with Julen Lopetegui suggesting his goalkeepers could be regularly rotated.

Incumbent number one Keylor Navas held his place in the 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup while Courtois, who travelled to Tallinn, was left out of the squad entirely.

The Belgium international had been expected to slot straight in after arriving from Chelsea for a reported £31 million ($40m), but the position remains up for grabs ahead of the club’s La Liga opener against Getafe on Sunday.

Lopetegui is prepared to keep the 26-year-old waiting as he weighs up his options in goal.

“There isn’t a magic formula. We need to manage it week by week,” the Los Blancos boss said.

“We will see as we go who is best for the team at any given time. We have two magnificent goalkeepers, and others as well.

“But of course these are two international-level keepers and we will try to manage it well and make decisions for the team.

“Of course there is huge competition for the team but I see it as something positive in that position. It’s good for the team to have competition.”

While Courtois and Navas battle for the starting spot, at least two of Kiko Casilla, Luca Zidane and new signing Andriy Lunin appear set to be trimmed from a crowded stable of goalkeepers.

Other areas of the squad are less equipped, but Lopetegui is adamant he has enough quality at his disposal to challenge for trophies.

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“We are convinced and we trust in the talent we have to work for the team together,” he said.

“They have a fantastic attitude. I am sure that we will see a talented Real Madrid with a good mentality, as that’s what we all want.

“The important thing is the players that are here. The ones that aren’t here, aren’t important.”

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Balotelli talk is of no interest to Marseille manager Garcia as striker search ruled out

Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s next destination is unlikely to be Marseille after manager Rudi Garcia insisted his club were not seeking another forward.

Patrick Vieira has confirmed Balotelli is “unlikely” to remain with his Nice side having expressed his wish to leave following two years with the club and the 28-year-old Italy international was left out their opening Ligue 1 game last weekend.

A move to Marseille has been mooted yet Garcia has poured cold water on that possibility by declaring his happiness with the club’s current strikers.

Asked about Balotelli at his media conference, Garcia said: “You talk about it, we do not especially inside the club. The priority is not a centre-forward.

 

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A post shared by Mario Balotelli (@mb459) on

“I am delighted. Valere [Germain] started very well. Kostas [Mitroglou] made a very good preparation when he arrived last summer on August 31 with a muscle injury.

“On last season, he has the best ratio of European goals scored [to] time spent on the field, or almost. I am satisfied with these two, there is no reason to go looking for others, no particular debate.”

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Who is Josef Martinez? The Venezuelan striker set to shatter the MLS scoring record

Josef Martinez is on the verge of breaking the Major League Soccer record for goals in a season, a record that has stood unbroken for 22 seasons. During that span the league has had several high-profile strikers pass through, such as Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane and most recently Zlatan Ibrahimovic. None of them ever put together a goal-scoring season in MLS like Martinez has managed in his second year in the league.

How has the 25-year-old Venezuelan managed to score 26 goals in 24 matches this season — and 45 goals in 44 matches over two seasons —  leaving him one behind the league’s season record mark with more than two months left to play? He has done so by combining speed, fearlessness and uncanny ability to sniff out scoring chances, all while spearheading one of the best attacks MLS has ever seen.

A native of Caracas, Venezuela, Martinez grew up in a country where baseball is the most popular sport. Fortunately for the 25-year-old, he grew up in a soccer-loving family and while he followed baseball, playing the sport wasn’t an option for him.

“My grandfather played (soccer) and my father as well, so that was the sport in our house,” Martinez told Goal. “My father was a goalkeeper and when I started to play I wanted to be a goalkeeper, but that didn’t last too long.”

Martinez was placed in goal for his first youth match, partly because he didn’t have a uniform to play in the field, but by his second match had a uniform and found his way into a field position. He would still occasionally play goalkeeper in training, but it wasn’t long before he gave up the gloves for good.

Luckily for Atlanta United fans, that foray into goalkeeping didn’t last and before long he was honing the skills that would help him develop into a talented forward drawing attention from European scouts. He eventually found new soccer idols to model his game after, with Ronaldo quickly becoming a favorite of a young Martinez during the Brazil legend’s playing days at Real Madrid.

“I was a Real Madrid fan and I loved watching him play,” Martinez said. “I liked that he was a killer. Not just for the joy he brought to the game and the skills he had, but the fact that he was a killer. If you gave him any room he would punish you. If he got a chance he finished it.”

That same description of Ronaldo is how MLS defenders would describe Martinez, the league’s most prolific scorer, now. His speed and strength make him a handful for defenders and one of his teammates, Atlanta United captain and long-time MLS veteran Michael Parkhurst, sees some qualities in Martinez that he saw in MLS standouts he played with in the past.

Josef Martinez MLS Atlanta United 08092018

“(Martinez) plays angry and I liken it to Clint Dempsey when he’s on the field,” Parkhurst told Goal. “He has no fear, goes out there with an attitude, like it’s him against the world, and will do whatever it takes to score goals. He doesn’t care if he’s going to get a broken nose, or if someone’s going to kick him in the face. He just does what it takes to put the ball in the goal.”

Parkhurst played with Dempsey when the two were both with the New England Revolution, a club that also sported one of the best scorers in MLS history in the form of Taylor Twellman. 

“He’s got a little bit of Taylor Twellman, with the attitude of (Dempsey),” Parkhurst said. “Taylor just because Taylor was so explosive as well, and so good in the box. Just a goal scorer in and around the box, knowing where to be, and good in the air, but obviously more dynamic than Taylor used to be.

“He understands where to be. He has that striker’s instinct. He has scored what you would deem as maybe some fortunate goals were you think he’s just in the right place at the right time. But when that happens over and over, it’s not a coincidence.”

Martinez showed that fearlessness and nose for goal in the recent MLS All-Star Game, when he dove in face-first to score against Juventus in front of a sold-out Mercedes Benz Stadium. Scoring against the reigning Italian champions had to offer some sense of added enjoyment for a player who struggled during his three seasons in Serie A.

His time with Torino doesn’t tell the whole story of the player he is though. Martinez made the jump from Venezuela to Europe at 18, joining Swiss side Young Boys. That same year, he made his national team debut, and began garnering more and more attention. His exploits in Switzerland, including a successful loan stint with FC Thun, led to a $4 million transfer to Torino in 2014.

Martinez scored seven goals in all competitions during his first season in Turin, not enough to become the team’s lead striker and not enough to keep Torino from hitting the transfer market the next summer, leading to the 2015 acquisition of Andrea Belotti. Once Belotti took command as Torino’s go-to striker, and became a prolific goal-scorer in Serie A, Martinez found playing time much tougher to come by.

That left him open to the idea of a loan to MLS, a league he heard about going back to his younger days in Venezuela, but a league he hadn’t seen much of.

“The first time they called me I had my doubts because I was in Europe and didn’t know much about MLS,” Martinez said. “Once I got here I knew it was a good move for me and Atlanta felt like a good place for me.”

Atlanta United felt the same way, turning the loan into a permanent transfer just a month into his move. Martinez has repaid that faith by scoring goals at a rate never before seen in MLS.

As for his time in Italy, Martinez bristles at the notion he wasn’t good enough to cut it in Serie A. 

Josef Martinez Serie A Torino 12062014

“I don’t regret anything. What happened in Italy happened,” Martinez said. “I learned a lot and I thank the people who helped me get there.

“People can say what they want about my time in Italy,” he went on. “All leagues are different, all teams are different. The Italian league is very defensive. You don’t see games finish 5-5, or 5-0. You see a lot of games ending 1-0, or 0-0, and it’s nothing against that style, but I think it’s too tactical.

“They’re different leagues, different styles, and different approaches, but I love it here”

Martinez has clearly benefited from the more wide open style in MLS, where league-wide defending is a weak point. But those flaws shouldn’t take away from the track record he has already established and the records he has already broken that much bigger names never could.

The next record on the list for Martinez to break is the MLS single-season scoring mark of 27 goals, which was first set by Roy Lassiter in 1996 and equaled twice since then (by Chris Wondolowski, Bradley Wright-Phillips). Martinez has 10 matches to try and break the record, and given his scoring rate in the league, and an Atlanta attack that keeps him stocked with scoring chances, it’s hard to see him not getting the two goals required to break it. If anything, the question is just how many can he score?

Martinez has already grown weary of talking about the looming record, which isn’t a surprise for a player who does his best to keep his goal celebrations muted.

Josef Martinez Atlanta United MLS August 6 2018

“I don’t like talking about the record because I don’t want to think about what I’ve done,” Martinez said. “I want to think about the future and about winning with Atlanta. That’s what matters to me, that and spending time with my niece and my two dogs.”

Martinez has also found happiness in Atlanta, though he is quick to profess his love for Venezuela and the joy he still feels when he visits his native land. Having already endured some tough years in Europe, Martinez has a full appreciation for how good things are for him now with Atlanta United, and while he won’t completely rule out a return to Europe one day, he sounds like a player ready to stick around Atlanta for a while.

“I have a lot to give to this team and this city,” Martinez said. “Coming to Atlanta was the best thing to happen for me.”

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It’s right up there with that decision his youth coaches in Venezuela made to make him a forward rather than a goalkeeper. As explosive and tenacious and fearless as Martinez may be, a career as a 5-foot-7 goalkeeper wouldn’t have worked out nearly as well for him as his career as a record-breaking striker.

“I don’t think I could have made it as a goalkeeper, I’m too small,” Martinez told Goal. “I think it worked out well. I prefer to shoot at the goal more than protect it.”

That much is very obvious these days, and it’s MLS goalkeepers and the league’s record book that need protecting.

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