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Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo coronavirus latest as Lionel Messi hopes for Barcelona reunion

Cristiano Ronaldo could face Lionel Messi in the Champions League tomorrow if his coronavirus test result comes back negative tonight, according to Juventus boss Andrea Pirlo.

Ronaldo tested positive for COVID-19 on his return from international duty with Portugal.

The attacker has been forced to miss the recent Serie A draws with Crotone and Verona, either side of the Champions League win over Dynamo Kiev.

There are hopes in Italy that Ronaldo will be available to face Barcelona tomorrow night as it has been around two weeks since he first tested positive.

However, Pirlo is sweating on a negative test as he will need his star man for the crunch clash with Barcelona.

“We must wait for the outcome [of Ronaldo’s test], I think the result will come tonight,” Pirlo said.

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“This evening we will have the definitive result.”

Ronaldo had many memorable battles with Messi during his time at Real Madrid.

And the Barcelona star hopes his Juventus rival will be available for their reunion.

“Obviously when Cristiano played for Real Madrid the games were special,” Messi told DAZN.

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“Matches against them always are [special], but with Cristiano on the pitch they took on a particular significance.

“That is now in the past and we look forward to today’s challenges.

“Wednesday there could be this challenge and we hope Cristiano can be there and will soon recover from Covid.”

If Ronaldo cannot play against Barcelona, Juventus defender Danilo is still confident on getting a positive result.

“I feel good about the way we play; we often have the ball and therefore there’s no problem,” he said.

“I don’t know about tomorrow, but I’m ready to do my best. We have to be quick and focused.

“We are on the right path. These are the best matches to play in. Any team would miss a player like Cristiano, but we have faith in all the players.”

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MLB

Source: Ravens signing Bryant to practice squad

  • University of Maryland graduate
  • Lives in the Baltimore area with his wife and son

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant is heading back to the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens are finalizing a deal to add the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to their practice squad, a source confirmed to ESPN. Bryant has been out of the league for two years.

NFL Network first reported Tuesday that the Ravens signed Bryant to their practice squad.

Bryant appeared to acknowledge the deal in a tweet Tuesday: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying”

The biggest question is when Bryant will suit up for the Ravens. Baltimore’s wide receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions (58) and receiving yards (737).

Bryant, 31, could become a physical possession-type receiver for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and can complement the speed of Marquise Brown.

The addition of Bryant might lead to a high-profile reunion on Dec. 3, when the Ravens play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Bryant starred for the Cowboys for eight seasons, totaling 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and a franchise-record 73 touchdown catches.

“Obviously, that’s kind of like on ‘OG’-type guy,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said when asked about Bryant on Monday. “He’s been around the league for a long, long time. He actually followed me on Twitter a year or two ago, so I’m excited to meet him, and I’m excited to [be] around him hopefully, and just learn.”

This marked Bryant’s second workout with Baltimore in two months. When Bryant left in August without a contract, he was told to improve his conditioning, a source said.

The Ravens are off to a fast start at 5-1, but their passing game ranks 31st in the NFL. It looks as if Jackson would benefit from another target on the outside because Brown is the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 11 catches this season.

Bryant is attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Josh Gordon was the first.

Bryant hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

In November 2018, Bryant signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But he tore an Achilles tendon during his first practice with the Saints and has been out of the NFL since.

Bryant’s 531 career receptions would be the most by any wide receiver before missing two full seasons and then returning to the NFL, according to Elias’ data.

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MLB

Michigan fan who threatened Ohio St. sentenced

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A California man’s threats to harm college football players because they beat his favored team epitomized “fandom spiraled out of control,” something that can’t be ignored in the age of mass shootings, a federal judge said Tuesday as he handed down sentence of one year and a day over the 2018 threats.

Daniel Rippy, of Livermore, California, a Michigan native and University of Michigan fan, used Facebook Messenger to threaten a shooting at Ohio State University during its annual game against Michigan, and vowed to hurt players on the football team and then-head coach Urban Meyer, authorities said.

Federal Judge Algenon Marbley had harsh words for Rippy during Tuesday’s sentencing done via video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic. Marbley referenced the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 as he lectured Rippy on the seriousness of the threats against college athletes just playing a game.

“It’s college competition. That’s all it is,” Marbley said.

What Rippy “epitomizes is fandom spiraled out of control,” Marbley said. The judge added: “We have to take this seriously because it happens.”

The 29-year-old Rippy, being held in jail in Columbus, apologized several times, saying he’d been having “a bad day” when he made the threats and promised it would never happen again. As part of an argument for a lesser sentence, Rippy and his lawyer emphasized that once he’s out of prison, he has a placement at a transitional housing center in California for men recently released from incarceration.

“I really didn’t mean for any of this. I feel really bad about it. I would never, ever do any act like this,” Rippy said.

Prosecutors asked for a 15-month sentence, on the lower end of sentencing guidelines. But in the end Marbley went even lower, noting that, “Some type of psychological or psychic imbalance may have animated this kind of behavior.”

Rippy will receive credit for the 10 months he’s spent in jail since his January arrest. Rippy’s mental health issues coupled with “some totally unrelated frustrations” led him to lash out the day he made the threats, said his attorney, federal public defender Soumyajit Dutta. What Rippy needs most are “resources for both mental health treatment and for an ability for him to get back on his feet,” Dutta said before sentencing.

An indictment unsealed late last year in federal court in Columbus accused Rippy of “electronic communication” threat from California during the game between Ohio State and the University of Michigan on Nov. 24, 2018. The game was played in Columbus that year, and Ohio State won 62-39.

Rippy threatened a shooting at the school, saying in a Facebook message to the university, “I’m seriously going to hurt the students and all of the players from the football team,” according to a statement of facts filed with Rippy’s July plea agreement. In separate messages, Rippy also threatened “to injure or kill specific players, their family members and the head coach,” the document said.

Rippy made similar threats against Gonzaga University on its Facebook page three days before the football game, after the Gonzaga men’s basketball team defeated Duke University on Nov. 21, 2018, the government revealed for the first time in an Oct. 7 court filing. Rippy is a Duke fan, the government said.

“Yeah and when I get my hands on the players from the basketball team there going to die one by one,” that posting said, according to federal prosecutors. Rippy later apologized to the school.

“Rippy’s anger and frustration at the loss of his sports teams went beyond the usual shouting at the television as the clock ticks down the final seconds that many of us experience,” Jessica Knight, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued in a court filing. Instead, Rippy’s threat during the Ohio State game sent authorities into a panic as they tried to figure out where he was and whether he posed an imminent threat to a stadium filled with 100,000 people, Knight said.

Rippy, a Michigan fan who grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, moved at age 27 to California, where he worked in fast food but couldn’t maintain a residence, the government said.

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Sports News

Marlon Samuels launches Instagram tirade against Ben Stokes

Marlon Samuels calls Ben Stokes a ‘b****’ and brags of his ‘f***ing superior skin tone’ in extraordinary Instagram tirade after England all-rounder joked he wouldn’t wish quarantine on his ‘worst enemy’… as Michael Vaughan criticises racist posts

  • Marlon Samuels launched discriminatory Instagram tirade against Ben Stokes
  • He called England star a ‘b****’ and made derogatory remark about his wife 
  • It came after Stokes joked he wouldn’t wish Covid quarantine on ‘worst enemy’ 
  • West Indies cricketer Samuels later had a pop at Shane Warne as well 
  • Samuels and Stokes have clashed during Tests and T20 matches in the past
  • Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan led the condemnation of Samuels’ posts 

Michael Vaughan has led criticism of Marlon Samuels after the West Indies cricketer launched a discriminatory tirade at Ben Stokes and his wife on social media.

Samuels, who has clashed with the England all-rounder on the pitch in the past, referred to his ‘f***ing superior skin tone’ and made a disparaging remark about Stokes’s wife Clare.

‘No white boy can diss me in the sports and no [sic] get diss back,’ Samuels wrote on his Instagram account, before calling Stokes a ‘b****’.

West Indies cricketer Marlon Samuels (right) has launched into a discriminatory and foul-mouthed tirade at England’s Ben Stokes (left) on his Instagram account

Stokes had joked that he wouldn’t wish two weeks of Covid-19 quarantine on his ‘worst enemy’ – even Samuels. In response, the West Indian cricketer made derogatory remarks about Stokes and his wife Clare 

In another foul-mouthed Instagram post, Samuels described Stokes and former Australian cricketer Shane Warne as ‘b****’ 

Later in the outburst, after a derogatory remark about Stokes’s wife, Samuels says ‘it’s my f***ing superior skin tone y’all hate, f*** you.’

In a later Instagram post, Samuels, 39, had a pop at Stokes and former Australian spinner Shane Warne, also calling them ‘b****’ while promoting his ‘Sextillion 7th Power’ perfume range. 

Samuels also posted a number of supportive messages from fans and also a recording of a message supposedly sent to him from an English cricket coach in which advice was sought on how to avoid ‘Ben Stokes syndrome’ of getting out early. 

Some of the offensive posts were later deleted by Samuels.  

It came in response to a joke by Stokes about not wishing two weeks of quarantine on his ‘worst enemy’ Samuels.

Stokes, 29, was forced to quarantine for two weeks as a Covid-19 precaution after travelling from New Zealand to the United Arab Emirates before joining up with Indian Premier League team Rajasthan Royals.

Stokes told the BBC Test Match Special podcast: ‘Some of the England boys were messaging me asking what it’s like and I was saying it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing you ever have to do… I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Samuels continued his tirade against Stokes in another Instagram post, recalling how he saluted the England batsmen after he was dismissed at Grenada in 2015 

Michael Vaughan, the former England captain, led criticism of Samuels’ ‘racist’ posts

‘I text my brother saying the same thing and my brother asked, ‘you wouldn’t even do that to Marlon Samuels?’

‘I said, ‘no, it’s that bad’ – that’s how tough it was.’

Former England captain Vaughan criticised Samuels for his comments on Twitter, saying: ‘This is appalling @marlonsamuels… we are trying to stamp out racism…!! A bit of banter by @benstokes38 should not lead to this…’

There has been bad blood between Stokes and Samuels for more than five years.

Samuels famously saluted Stokes off the field after he was dismissed during a Test match in Grenada in April 2015 with the England man returning the favour by applauding when Samuels was out in the same match.

The pair also exchanged words during the 2016 World Twenty20 final in Kolkata after Carlos Brathwaite hit four consecutive sixes off Stokes deliveries in the final over to guide West Indies to victory.

Stokes is given a warning by umpire Steve Davis after an exchange of words with Samuels during the Test match in Grenada in 2015 

Stokes applauded Samuels off the field after he was dismissed during the April 2015 Test

Samuels and Stokes exchange words during West Indies’ win over England in the 2016 World Twenty20 final in Kolkata 

In his 2016 book Firestarter, Stokes accused Samuels of ‘lacking respect.’

He wrote: ‘Marlon lacks respect. You get that if you have spent any time with him on a cricket field.

‘Marlon’s conduct after West Indies’ victory over us in this year’s World Twenty20 final showed a total disrespect for the game.

‘Without removing his batting pads, Marlon walked into a press conference, sat down and placed his feet on the desk. Totally lacking manners.’




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Soccer

Premier League put back decision on pay-per-view matches

Premier League put back decision on pay-per-view matches until after the international break – but scheme is set to stay with bosses considering reducing the £14.95 price rather than scrapping it completely

  • Premier League are to review pay-per-view plans following substantial criticism 
  • Changes to format will not take place until after next month’s international break
  • Any initial changes to the plan will focus on adjusting the £14.95 price 
  • Clubs are fully aware of the damage it is causing in terms of public image 
  • EXCLUSIVE: Premier League pay-per-view viewing figures are revealed

The Premier League are to review their pay-per-view plans following substantial criticism of the scheme from clubs at Tuesday’s shareholders meeting.

But any changes to the controversial broadcasting format will not take place until after next month’s international break.

The decision taken earlier this month to make some matches available through pay-per-view on either Sky Sports or BT Sport has caused outrage among the footballing community in recent weeks.

Tottenham vs Brighton is one of the matches to be shown on Sky Sports Box Office this week

The Premier League are to review their pay-per-view plans following criticism of the scheme

Indeed, Sportsmail understands the arrangement was met with uncertainty by several clubs at Tuesday’s shareholders meeting – who are fully aware of the damage it is causing in terms of public image.

Fans throughout the country have chosen to boycott pay-per-view matches to instead donate the £14.95 charge to various charities – and clubs are very aware of the negativity that has created.

Nevertheless, it is understood the Premier League will continue with the pay-per-view plan in its current guise for the next two round of matches.

There remains a sense that the approach still remains financially viable and having an extra two round of games will provide them with a bigger body of evidence to look at when they do review the pay-per-view format after next month’s international break.

But even then it is understood that any initial changes to the plan will focus on adjusting the £14.95 price rather than scrapping pay-per-view altogether.

Any changes to the format will not take place until after next month’s international break

Both BT Sport and Sky Sports have seen dwindling figures arriving to purchase the matches 

PPV MATCHES PLAYED SO FAR

Sat Oct 17: Chelsea 3-3 Southampton BT Sport Box Office

Sat Oct 17: Newcastle 1-4 Man United Sky Sports Box Office

Sun Oct 18: Sheffield United 1-1 Fulham BT Sport Box Office

Sun Oct 18: Leicester 0-1 Aston Villa Sky Sports Box Office

Mon Oct 19: West Brom 0-0 Burnley Sky Sports Box Office

Fri Oct 23: Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds BT Sport Box Office

Sat Oct 24: Fulham 1-2 Crystal Palace BT Sport Box Office

Sat Oct 24: Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United – Sky Sports Box

Sun Oct 25: Arsenal 0-1 Leicester – Sky Sports Box Office

Mon Oct 26: Brighton 1-1 West Brom Sky Sports Box Office 

PPV matches yet to come 

Fri Oct 30: Wolves vs Crystal Palace, 8pm – BT Sport Box Office

Sat Oct 31: Burnley vs Chelsea, 3pm – BT Sport Box Office

Sun Nov 1: Aston Villa vs Southampton, 12pm – Sky Sports Box Office

Sun Nov 1: Tottenham vs Brighton, 12pm – Sky Sports Box Office

Mon Nov 2: Fulham vs West Brom, 5.30pm – Sky Sports Box Office




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Soccer

Liverpool star Roberto Firmino warned he could be replaced by Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino has been warned he has to up his goals tally or risk being replaced by Jurgen Klopp. Firmino scored just 12 goals in 52 matches in all competitions for Liverpool last season, despite the Reds winning the Premier League title at a canter. It was the first campaign in his five years at Anfield that he had not reached double figures in a domestic league season.

Firmino netted his first of this season in the 2-1 win over Sheffield United on Saturday.

Former Liverpool midfielder Don Hutchison says certain leeway must be given to forwards like Firmino who provide a lot more than just goals for their team.

However, Hutchison says there may come a point where Klopp will want a more prolific striker than the 29-year-old.

Hutchison told Premier League Productions: “He needed that didn’t he, Firmino, he needed that. He needed a goal.

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“I think you always give certain strikers [leeway], like Firmino and like Diego Costa, what they do for the team, their impact for the team, impact Salah and Mane getting goals.

“But there is a point where you’re watching games and you go ‘you do need to chip in with some’ otherwise Liverpool may look in years down the line of getting a prolific No 9 in.

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“But he does so well for the team.”

Former Aston Villa striker Dion Dublin agrees Firmino needs to find the back of the net more often.

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“He’s played well but he hasn’t got himself as many goals as he should,” Dublin said.

“It’s okay to assist but there has to come a time where you have to start getting double figures and I think this is probably the start for him.”

Meanwhile, Liverpool are back in Champions League action tonight when they host Danish side FC Midtjylland.

In the club’s first European game at home without fans, Klopp says his side will try to “channel the energy” of a usual evening match at Anfield.

“I think I am right in saying this will be the first time Anfield is empty for this sort of game,” Klopp wrote in the matchday programme.

“Of course, I cannot and will not in this column claim we can produce the same feeling when Anfield’s stands remain closed.

“But what I can say is we will try to channel the energy that comes from within, in terms of what it means to represent LFC, in this specific competition and at our home.

“As a team we carry that responsibility into this game.”

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Soccer

Why Monchengladbach are primed to inflict more pain on Real Madrid

Late bloomer Jonas Hofmann hitting top form, confident boss Marco Rose keeping stars fresh and pass master Florian Neuhaus pulling the strings… why Borussia Monchengladbach are primed to double up on Real Madrid’s Champions League pain

  • Real Madrid began their Champions League campaign with a 3-2 defeat at home
  • Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk inflicted the surprise loss on Zinedine Zidane’s men
  • They now take on Borussia Monchengladbach, who are fifth in the Bundesliga
  • Boss Marco Rose has downplayed Real’s 3-1 Clasico win over rivals Barcelona
  • He has in-form players including Jonas Hofmann and Florian Neuhaus to call on
  • Sportsmail takes a look at why Monchengladbach could cause another upset

Real Madrid’s Champions League campaign got off to the worst possible start last week – and if they’re not careful, it’ll be back-to-back defeats come Tuesday night.

Borussia Monchengladbach, one of the Bundesliga’s most exciting young sides, are their next opponents and they’ll fancy their chances after seeing what a depleted Shakhtar Donetsk did to Zinedine Zidane’s men at the Bernabeu.

The Ukrainians took advantage of Sergio Ramos’ absence to score three times in the Spanish capital before weathering a late storm and holding on for a shock 3-2 win.

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Manor Solomon scores his side’s third goal in their win over Real Madrid

And while Zidane will be boosted by the return of his captain – and the confidence which comes from a victory over bitter rivals Barcelona – Monchengladbach pose the sort of threat Real must be careful of.

Marco Rose’s side have developed a reputation as one of Germany’s most attractive teams in recent seasons, and showed they are no pushovers by almost coming away with three points from their opening game away at Inter Milan last week.

Here, Sportmail takes a closer look at why Monchengladbach could leave Real Madrid with an uphill battle to reach the Champions League knockout stages.

Marcelo and Marco Asensio (left to right) look dejected during Real’s defeat by Shakhtar

HOFMANN GETTING BETTER WITH AGE

When Jonas Hofmann turned 25, he had only ever managed eight starts during a season in the Bundesliga.

Fast forward three years and the versatile midfielder is now one of the key players in Rose’s Monchengladbach side and has an international cap to his name.

Hofmann made his first appearance for Germany at the age of 28 earlier this month and seems to be finally fulfilling the promise which saw him break through under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund way back in 2012.

Capable of playing centrally, as a No 10 or out wide, the former Mainz loanee is in a rich vein of form and already has four goals and five assists to his name in all competitions this term.

One of those strikes came last week against Inter, when he was the coolest man inside the San Siro as he ran through on goal before slotting past Samir Handanovic. 

Hofmann has been compared to Marco Reus in his home country and has the ability and directness to cause Zidane’s back four all kinds of problems on Tuesday night.

Jonas Hofmann celebrates after scoring against Inter Milan in Monchengladbach’s first game

CONFIDENT ROSE HAS HIS STARS FIT

Monchengladbach boss Rose didn’t watch Real’s Clasico win over Barcelona on Saturday because his side were playing at the same time, but that didn’t stop him downplaying their 3-1 win.

‘In any case we know that Barcelona is in a difficult phase and that it is no longer the Barcelona that we all knew and admire,’ he said during a press conference, perhaps in an attempt to kick-start some mind games with Zidane.

Whether it was a genuine observation or not, Rose has certainly been preparing for Tuesday’s game for a while.

He made five changes to the team which drew with Inter against bottom of the table Mainz last week, resting the likes of Hoffman and key midfielder Florian Neuhaus from the start before introducing them after the break to help seal a 3-2 win. 

Forwards Marcus Thuram and Alassane Plea, who starred during Monchengladbach’s stint at the top of the table last season, were also benched in a bid to keep them fresh for the visit of Karim Benzema and Co.

Rose is relishing the opportunity to face a ‘great rival’ in the shape of Real – and his players will be fit and firing because of his clever rotation policy. 

Monchengladbach boss Marco Rose rotated his team last weekend to keep them fresh for Real

MONCHENGLADBACH’S HOME FORTRESS

Given how they struggled on home soil last week, Real Madrid may not be looking forward to the prospect of playing at one of Germany’s toughest grounds.

Monchengladbach had the second best record of any Bundesliga side at home last season, losing only three games and taking 38 points from a possible 51.

Champions Bayern Munich were the only side to pick up more points (41), while just five teams have beaten Monchengladback at Borussia-Park in all competitions since the start of last season.

They are unbeaten in their two games there this term and have suffered just one defeat home or away in eight matches, having been beaten by Borussia Dortmund in the opening game of the season.

The task would have been even greater for Real had Monchengladbach been allowed to welcome more than 10,000 supporters into the stadium as planned.

However, a rise in coronavirus cases in the city means that is now no longer possible, with just 300 lucky supporters permitted to attend one of the biggest games of the night. 

Monchengladbach will be allowed 300 fans inside Borussia-Park when they face Real Madrid

PASS MASTER NEUHAUS 

A clip of Hofmann’s goal in the 2-2 draw with Inter went viral last week, but not for the reason you might expect.

Although the midfielder’s perfectly-timed run and calm finish were both to be admired, it was the through ball from Florian Neuhaus which had fans drooling.

The 23-year-old has come into his own in a deep-lying central midfield role under Rose, with his vision and technique earning him a first cap for Germany earlier this month.

Both of those qualities were on show as he set up Hofmann with a sublime, drilled pass which cut straight through Inter’s defence to put his team-mate in on goal.

Neuhaus, who has been likened to Madrid’s Toni Kroos in style, already has two goals and two assists this season, and has completed 87 per cent of his passes.

He will come up against his compatriot on Tuesday night and should relish the chance to show that he is the future of Germany’s midfield. 

THEY LOVE THE BIG GAMES 

Some teams might freeze when going head-to-head with a team of Real Madrid’s quality, experience and history. Monchengladbach are unlikely to be one of them.

The Foals have a solid record when it comes to picking up results in the really big games, having won three of their last six meetings with German giants Bayern.

They also saw off Roma at home in last season’s Europa League and earned a creditable draw with Manchester City during the 2016-17 season.

Games against Real were common during Monchengladbach’s glory decade of the 1970s, and they also faced them during the 1980s too.

In four meetings, the Bundesliga outfit won once, drew twice and suffered just one defeat.

Borussia Monchengladbach’s players train on Monday ahead of the visit of the Spanish giants




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Premier League to review pay-per-view matches policy in coming weeks

The Premier League will review its stance on pay-per-view (PPV) matches in the coming weeks after the Premier League shareholders’ meeting took place on Tuesday.

During October, matches not initially selected for regular TV broadcast have been made available on a pay-per-view basis accessed via Sky Sports’ and BT Sport’s existing Box Office platforms at £14.95 each.

The Premier League announced the decision following Government-imposed restrictions on supporters attending matches, which mean all games currently take place behind closed doors.

Prior to the meeting, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley had called on the Premier League to urgently review its current pay-per-view arrangements, which Sky Sports and BT Sport deliver at cost price, with the majority of revenue going back into Premier League clubs.

Ashley had suggested the price for games be reduced with the Government removing the VAT for supporters who purchase matches in the final months of 2020 and with more of the revenue distributed to the Football League.

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But a final decision on the future of PPV matches and how much will be charged to watch them in future is not now expected until after the next international break in mid-November.

“Why not make it much more accessible at £4.95 per match until Christmas?” Ashley said recently.

“The Government should waive VAT on the pay-per-view matches so that as many of those who are unable to attend matches in person can at least watch their team.

“The profit from the above reduced-price pay-per-view option, I would suggest that 50 per cent would be retained by the Premier League and 50 per cent would go to the football pyramid below.

“As a club, Newcastle United did vote in favour of the pay-per-view proposal, but to be clear, this was because there were no realistic or any viable alternatives put forward to enable supporters to watch matches.”

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Andy Walker's column: What's gone wrong at Celtic?

Celtic were held to a 3-3 draw with Aberdeen on Sunday and are six points adrift of Rangers; “Does Olivier Ntcham want to be in Glasgow as a bit-part player? Would Kristoffer Ajer like a shot at Italian football with AC Milan?”

Football Expert & Columnist

Tuesday 27 October 2020 15:09, UK

Andy Walker expects Neil Lennon to come through a difficult period as Celtic manager but has questioned whether all his players are committed to the cause…

Who’d be a manager?

Since taking over from Brendan Rodgers, Neil Lennon has won every domestic trophy that’s been on offer. Think about that.

Succeeding Brendan Rodgers in late February 2019, he went on to secure the title and then the Scottish Cup in dramatic fashion.

A goal down to Hearts with 30 minutes to play, Lennon’s players came through for him and won 2-1.

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Last season, he led his team to a League Cup triumph over Rangers in December despite playing the last 30 minutes with 10 men. Sure, they were outplayed by Rangers, but his players delivered the trophy.

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Weeks later, Rangers were the superior side again, this time in Celtic’s own back yard and won 2-1. It was meant to signal an onslaught from the Ibrox club in the second half of the season.

Instead, we saw a spectacular collapse from Steven Gerrard’s men and Celtic were 13 points ahead with eight games to go before the season was called early due to the current pandemic. No one could argue that they would be caught.

Lennon simply cannot do any more than win every domestic trophy on offer and as things stand, Celtic are two points worse off than at this stage last season and possibly two games from securing a fourth treble on the trot.

And yet he’s under enormous pressure now that his team are six points adrift of their great rivals in October, having played a game less. Why?

Undoubtedly, it boils down to the significance of what’s on offer this season. Both Celtic and Rangers have secured nine titles in a row before, but neither has managed the 10. It’s the Holy Grail.

The debate amongst every Celtic fan is whether this is a blip, possibly just a slump in form, or maybe there’s something badly wrong, something more serious happening behind the scenes?

  • Lennon hits back: ‘There’s no justification to sack me’
  • Milan pair test positive – three days after Celtic trip
  • Celtic denied by late Aberdeen pen in six-goal thriller

Lennon says he will blank out the recent hysteria on the back of successive home defeats to Rangers and AC Milan and the draw with Aberdeen last Sunday. Good luck with that!

I can guarantee that this season will be dominated by hysteria and extreme reactions. Every defeat will be viewed as catastrophic; every draw will be a complete disaster.

In all honesty, I think the hysteria Lennon refers to largely comes from his own supporters. A growing number simply don’t buy into him.

Even so, every Celtic supporter I have spoken to was delighted with the transfer window. No sales, and additions like Vasilas Barkas, Albian Ajeti, David Turnbull, Diego Laxalt, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Shane Duffy to strengthen the squad.

My only take on it is, the squad is only stronger if all the players are committed and are buying into the manager’s thoughts and plans.

Does Olivier Ntcham want to be in Glasgow as a bit-part player? He is hugely talented but doesn’t get a regular game. In top form, he’d command a big fee but he doesn’t play regularly enough to be happy.

Has anyone else had their head turned by interest elsewhere? Would Kristoffer Ajer like a shot at Italian football with AC Milan?

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What about Odsonne Edouard? Lennon himself admitted a few weeks ago that transfer speculation has been affecting his top goalscorer and talisman. Of the players who joined recently, what are we to make of them?

Former Ireland international Gary Breen insisted Shane Duffy was taking a step down and potentially damaging his Ireland career by moving to Scotland.

The truth is, his form has been atrocious and having watched him play numerous times for Brighton while covering their games for Sky, I was expecting a lot more from a man who was the club’s Player of the Year in the English Premier League under Chris Hughton.

Other signings have also been slow to impress. Ajeti? If he doesn’t get service inside the box, his contribution is minimal. Patryk Klimala? Similarly unimpressive. Barkas? I haven’t seen him make a game-changing save of any note.

So, will Lennon survive this period? Of course he will, but no manager survives the habit of losing.

I’ll say it again, as long as the players are still with him and fighting for him as they clearly were in securing the last four trophies, there’s still life in Celtic’s main challenge for the season, a remarkable 10th title in a row.

Scottish Football podcast: October 21

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Ian Crocker, Andy Walker and Kris Boyd look back at Rangers laying down a marker in the Old Firm game, the alleged team leak from within the Celtic camp, and the coronavirus crisis and whether teams should forfeit points for failing to fulfil fixtures.

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Soccer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaks out on Dayot Upamecano amid Man Utd transfer links

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has branded Dayot Upamecano a ‘very good player’ and talked up the prospect of seeing the highly-rated centre-back in action when Manchester United face RB Leipzig on Wednesday night.

The 22-year-old was strongly linked with a move to United throughout the whole summer, however, he ended up staying at the German club and extending his contract until 2023.

Upamecano’s new deal reportedly includes a bargain €40million (£36.5m) buy-out clause which will become active next summer – and both the Red Devils and Liverpool are still said to be keen.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Leipzig at Old Trafford, Solskjaer refused to be drawn on a potential move for the defender, but admitted he is a top player.

‘There’s always rumours and speculation about other players and Manchester United,’ the Norwegian boss said. ‘I don’t want to comment on every player we’re linked to.

‘Since he’s playing against us tomorrow, I know he’s a very good player and we can see him close up tomorrow.’

United began their European campaign in style last week with an impressive 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes.

They face the tough prospect of Julian Nagelsmann’s side next, who are top of the Bundesliga after dropping just one point in their opening five league games.

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