Shkodran Mustafi wants to stay at Arsenal despite reports he has rejected new contract

Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi wants to extend his stay at the Emirates despite reports he rejected an extension in the summer. Mustafi’s current contract expires at the end of this season. The Germany international has only recently returned from a serious hamstring injury he suffered in July.

Mustafi was told by Unai Emery he could leave Arsenal in the summer of 2019 but remained at the club.

And after Mikel Arteta replaced Emery, Mustafi became a regular fixture in the Gunners backline before his injury.

Mustafi was caught out for Leicester’s winner in Sunday’s 1-0 loss at the Emirates.

A day later, reports claimed the 28-year-old had rejected a new contract earlier this year.

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But speaking ahead of the Europa League clash against Dundalk on Wednesday, Mustafi insisted he would like to continue his career with the Gunners.

“When I made a decision to sign for Arsenal it is because I respect this club,” Mustafi said.

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“It is a huge club, that’s why for me if I could stay at Arsenal, of course it would mean a lot to me.

“At the end of the day, it was important for me in the last three months to come back after the injury and to be ready to play and to help my team.

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“When you hopefully get a few games, you can maybe look at the future but at the moment for me it has been difficult because in the last months, I haven’t really been thinking about the end of my contract or what’s going on with the future because all I wanted was to be back as quick as possible.

“I think I missed a few important games in the last months and I just wanted to be back as quick as possible, try and play a few games and then when the time comes, think about what’s next and hopefully we are going to have some news for you.

“At the moment I was just happy to come back from injury, it was three long months – I was happy just to come back and be able to play again.

“We haven’t been talking about anything so there isn’t anything I can tell you guys.

“Now for me it is important to just get a few games and get into the match rhythm and then see how it goes.”

Mustafi is likely to start against Dundalk and is in line to feature against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday following the thigh injury suffered by David Luiz.

And Arteta insists he has been happy with the centre-back since he became boss last December.

Arteta said: “I’ve been really happy with Musti since I joined and the progress that he’s made, the performances that he’s made.

“It’s true that he had a long-term injury and he’s worked really hard to get back in that position where he is today and I just want him to show again the trust that we have in him and get the performances that we got in the past from him as well.

“I think there were a few cases when we joined in that position.

“What we tried to do was help the players as much as possible, encourage them to play with confidence, try to give them the right solutions and then it’s up to them to show with their performances where they are.”

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Payet looking to deliver a reminder of brilliance against Man City

Dimitri Payet was Premier League box office at West Ham but has found a place he calls home in Marseille… and the free-kick maestro will be looking to deliver a reminder of his individual brilliance against Manchester City tonight

  • Dimitri Payet is once again the centre of attention at Ligue 1 side Marseille 
  • Payet has had a mixed time in France since acrimoniously leaving West Ham 
  • Payet, 33, fell out with former boss Rudi Garcia and underwhelmed in 2018/19 
  • But now Payet is back in favour and at the centre of Andre Villas-Boas plans 
  • He will now try to unlock at Manchester City defence in the Champions League 

Dimitri Payet lit up the Premier League during his two-year spell at West Ham, but now back at his beloved Marseille he appears to be driving the Ligue 1 side’s domestic and European ambitions.

His Hammers career – which saw him become one of the most coveted attacking midfielders in Europe given his creative genius – ended on a sour and acrimonious note, refusing to train and telling then boss Slaven Bilic that he wanted to leave immediately. 

The east London club did initially fold to his demands and let him return to his former side in January 2017, and now more than three years on Payet will face – rather than turn out for – an English side, with Manchester City the visitors to the Stade Velodrome on Tuesday evening.

Dimitri Payet will face Manchester City again as Marseille face them in the Champions League

 Payet re-joined the Ligue 1 side in 2017 after an acrimonious departure from West Ham

Payet passed to Victor Moses for a stunning opener in West Ham’s shock 2-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium in September 2015, but that appearance was one of the two occasions he faced City during his spell in the Premier League before returning to Marseille. 

That transition though back to life in France has been – like the player himself – fascinating and unpredictable in equal measure.

The 33-year-old racked up a mammoth 23 assists in his first full season back in French football and his 10 goals were equally as important as Marseille reached the Europa League final. 

For Payet and Marseille though, the game both literally and figuratively ended in sadness, with the tears streaming down Payet’s face as he was forced to withdraw with a hamstring issues just half an hour into the 3-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid in Lyon.

Back in France, Payet appears to be driving Marseille’s domestic and European ambitions

Now he is looking to give Pep Guardiola a reminder of his brilliance having returned to France

The tears did not only demonstrate his pain that he would not be able to try and help his side to their first European silverware since winning the inaugural edition of the Champions League in 1993, but also confirmed he would miss out on France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup.

His forced omission would plunge his club career back into the depths of darkness, appearing to suffer from a lack of motivation after the disappointment of missing out on Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning squad.

Lacklustre displays and general disconsolation in a season where he managed just six goals and eight assists also saw him fall out with then club boss Rudi Garcia, who had entrusted him with the captaincy after Steve Mandanda joined Crystal Palace. 

But last season saw the arrival of former Tottenham and Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, who reignited the fire inside Payet’s belly by making him the fulcrum of the attacking and fluid system the Portuguese has tried to implement.

Payet helped Marseille to the Europa League final in his first full season back at the club, but went off injured and in tears against Atletico Madrid

The injury also saw Payet miss out on a place in France’s World Cup winning squad in Russia

A box-office player with skills in abundance and exquisite free-kicks to match, Payet notched 12 goals across all competitions last season and laid on six assists for his team-mates as Marseille finished second to PSG in the aborted French season and won a place back in the Champions League for the first time in six years.

Such is the esteem that Villas-Boas holds Payet in that in January this year, he compared his status at the club to that of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus.

‘Barcelona are Messi dependent, Juventus are Ronaldo dependent. If we’re Payet dependent, we’re Payet dependent,’ he reasoned.

‘But it doesn’t worry me. Good players make the difference. But I’ve got no problems handling something like that.’

Channelling that burgeoning desire that is beginning to re-emerge inside Payet has been key, but as has so often been the case with Payet, complications have not been too far away.

Payet suffered a dip in form the following season and fell out with then boss Rudi Garcia

But Andre Villas-Boas took over last season and appears to have reignited the fire in Payet

Concerns about his weight – which Villas-Boas has been keen to downplay – have arisen already this season, while the midfield maverick has also allowed games this season against Saint-Etienne, Metz and Lille to pass him by.

Contracting coronavirus in August also saw him miss the first game of the season against Brest, but it was the 1-1 draw against Lyon earlier this month that really saw the best and worst of the Marseille star.

Payet fired Marseille in front from former Newcastle winger Florian Thauvin’s pass for his first goal of the season, but quickly turned villain as he lunged recklessly at Leo Dubois’s ankle. 

Referee Stephanie Frappart initially booked Payet but upgraded it to a red card after a VAR review.

The rash nature of the challenge may have been evident for all to see, but Payet’s commitment to Marseille, however reckless it may be, is undoubted.

Payet showed his best against Lyon, opening the scoring from a Florian Thauvin (centre) pass

But he also showed the ugly side of his game and was sent off soon after for a reckless foul

He had suggested last season he could leave Marseille if they were not ambitious heading into the Champions League group stages.

But in June he put all speculation to bed by signing a two-year contract extension with Marseille through to 2024 and agreed to halve his salary for this season to help out the club deal with the ongoing pandemic.

‘The club did what had to be done to get me back when I needed it. The club has given to me, and I wanted to repay that,’ Payet said after signing the deal.

‘The idea came to mind when the president spoke about things and who better than me to lead by example? I love this club and I’m ready to do anything for it to grow. It’s good to say you love, but it’s better to show it.’ 

A more controversial way to demonstrate that love is to mock rival clubs, and Payet did just that on social media by making fun of Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League final defeat to Bayern Munich last season.

However, Payet’s commitment to the cause at Marseille on and off the field cannot be doubted

He will need to be at his best if Marseille are to beat a City side he faced just twice at West Ham

He then took to Twitter again last month and posted a photoshopped image of Neymar crying after his side ended their nine-year winless streak against the Ligue 1 champions in a game marred by the Brazilian’s altercation with Alvaro Gonzalez, with the duo since being cleared of making discriminatory remarks in the bust-up.

But many have become concerned that Payet’s behaviour on social media has distracted him from the more pressing matter of getting fit, apparently admitting himself he is ‘lacking juice’ in his legs, while Villas-Boas explained that Payet had told him that he could be doing much better.

The key to doing that, according to Alain Perrin – his former coach at Saint Etienne – is to make sure he is psychologically prepared.

‘He needs confrontation, He will always be capable of reacting to it, given his technical qualities,’ Perrin told L’Equipe.

‘Once he is in a routine, it is much more difficult.’ 

Marseille will be hoping for performances from Steve Mandanda (left) and Morgan Sanson

That confrontation and motivation could however arrive against a formidable, albeit injury-ravaged Man City side, particularly given that he managed just one assist in the two games he faced them in the Premier League.

The French outfit have the likes of former Aston Villa left-back Jordan Amavi, captain and goalkeeper Mandanda as well as Bayern Munich loanee Michael Cuisance among their ranks.

But they will need them, as well as midfielders Kevin Strootman and Morgan Sanson to react with the club still reeling from their last-gasp defeat at Olympiacos in their Group C opener.

Payet and co. will have to raise their game against City having been beaten by Olympiacos

City themselves of course have struggled against French opposition in recent seasons, having suffered a shock knockout in last season’s Champions League quarter finals at the hands of Lyon.

That soul-destroying loss came three years after a Monaco side featuring the likes of Kylian Mbappe and current Liverpool midfielder Fabinho knocked Pep Guardiola’s men out on away goals at the last 16 stage.

While such high stakes are not on the line in Tuesday’s fixture, Villas-Boas will hope the formidable task they are faced with of trying to get out of the group draws a reaction from the bullish and intense side of Payet to show his side belong on the biggest of European stages. 

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Man City 'missing a trick by not signing Sturridge', says Richards

Manchester City ‘are missing a trick by not signing Daniel Sturridge’, says Micah Richards – as Pep Guardiola struggles with Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus both out injured

  • Daniel Sturridge is a free agent after his Trabzonspor contract was terminated 
  • Manchester City are short on forwards with Sergio Aguero once again sidelined 
  • Gabriel Jesus is also out for Pep Guardiola’s men after his thigh injury at Wolves 
  • Sportsmail columnist Micah Richards insists Sturridge would have a lot to offer 

Micah Richards insists former side Manchester City are ‘missing a trick’ by not bringing Daniel Sturridge back to the club.

The 31-year-old is currently without a club following the termination of his contract at Trabzonspor in March, six months after signing a three-year deal with the Turkish club shortly before being banned from football for four months for breaching betting rules.

Pep Guardiola is currently short of striking options, with Sergio Aguero picking up another injury, this time to his hamstring, during the 1-1 draw at West Ham at the weekend, while Gabriel Jesus remains sidelined with a thigh problem suffered at Wolves.

Micah Richards insists Manchester City are ‘missing a trick’ by re-signing Daniel Sturridge

Sturridge is currently a free agent after his contract at Trabzonspor was terminated in March

But writing in his BBC Sport column, Sportsmail columnist Richards – who played alongside Sturridge at City for three years – believes the striker still has much to offer Premier League side and insists that does not exclude his former club.

‘It would have been easy for Daniel to walk away from the game, but he’s still hungry,’ Richards said. 

‘He went to Turkey last year to get away from all of that talk about him being injury-prone and get some games under his belt, to show he can stay fit. He was doing well with Trabzonspor and was enjoying it before he got hit by a ban for breaching betting rules.

‘When he plays football again it might be with another team abroad, but I can’t help but think that there are several clubs in the Premier League who are missing a trick by not signing him. 

City are currently short of attackers after Sergio Aguero suffered another injury at West Ham

Fellow forward Gabriel Jesus remains sidelined following his thigh injury suffered at Wolves

‘I would include City in that, just to fill in while Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are injured. Even if he was half-fit, he would score goals in that side.

‘At the moment it almost feels like people have forgotten how good he is, but Daniel still has time to remind them, and show everyone what he is really all about.’

Sturridge made his breakthrough at City in 2006 before moving to Chelsea three years later. 

Richards’ comments come after the former Liverpool and Chelsea striker admitted he has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to prevent the injuries that have been so damaging to his footballing career.

And Richards insists that Sturridge would still have plenty to offer Pep Guardiola’s side

‘I’d spend loads of money outside of the physios at work to do extra stuff to ensure that I can be as healthy as possible,’ Sturridge said earlier this month.

‘Hundreds of thousands, to be fair, you know, to make sure that my body has to be in the best shape possible.

‘And sometimes, you can do, you can put the hours in, you can do everything. But sometimes it is just luck.’

Richards (left) and Sturridge (right) were team-mates before the latter left for Chelsea in 2009

Meanwhile, Sportsmail revealed on Monday that City are expected to have to do without Aguero for a month as the club’s injury-ravaged start to the season continues.

‘With Sergio’s injury, 10-15 days is the minimum,’ Guardiola said ahead of his side’s Champions League clash with Marseille. 

‘If it’s a little bit longer it will be three weeks, one month. The muscular ones normally do not move [beyond] these [parameters]. Sergio will be the same, there will be no exception.’

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Icardi could make Serie A return as 'AC Milan consider January move'

Mauro Icardi could make incredible Serie A return as ‘AC Milan consider January move’ for Paris Saint-Germain striker… with his wife Wanda Nara ‘pushing a return to Italy’

  • AC Milan are considering a January move for PSG striker Mauro Icardi
  • The Argentine signed a four-year deal with a the French side in the summer 
  • But the forward’s wife Wanda Nara is keen for their family to return to Italy 
  • Icardi spent seven years at Milan’s rivals Inter before falling out with the board 

AC Milan are reportedly lining up a shock January move for Mauro Icardi with the Paris Saint-Germain striker’s wife keen to take their family back to Italy.

Icardi spent seven years with Milan’s rivals Inter but left in the summer to sign a four-year deal with PSG after scoring 20 goals in 34 games during a successful loan spell last season.

According to AS, the Argentine, who is currently sidelined with a knee injury, is a target for Stefano Pioli’s side and the Milan manager could be helped by the forward’s wife Wanda Nara.

AC Milan are reportedly lining up a January move for Paris Saint-Germain striker Mauro Icardi

Icardi’s wife Wanda Nara (right) is said to be keen for the family to make a return to Italy

Nara, who has worked as a football agent, television presenter and model, is said to want her children to grow up in Italy and the family are already familiar with the city of Milan due to her husband’s association with Inter. 

Milan are currently top of Serie A despite having played a game less than their rivals with four wins from four matches. 

The club reportedly believe they have a chance of challenging for their first Scudetto in 10 years and believe Icardi could form a devastating partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Stefano Pioli’s side are currently top of Serie A and Icardi could link up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The veteran striker already has five goals this season and is the figurehead among a relatively young but talented squad. 

Icardi joined PSG in a £52million deal in May after falling out with the Inter board and manager Antonio Conte made it clear he was not part of his future plans.

The forward was a prolific finisher during his time at Inter with his tally of 29 goals in the 2017-2018 season earning him the footballer of the year award. 

However, returning to the San Siro with the red half of Milan would not go down well with his old supporters.

The forward spent seven years at Inter Milan before joining PSG permanently in the summer

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A race for the ages: How Hackney’s Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro d’Italia

Piancavallo came down to himself, Jai Hindley, and one of the race favourites Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb). It was Stage 15 that Geoghegan Hart burst on to the scene, not just winning the stage but looking the more at-ease rider, he clearly felt good heading into the all-important final week.

As we began that final week he was just 2mins 57seconds off the lead but it was on Thursday when the big changes took place. The Passo Del Stelvio, one of cycling’s most famous, or perhaps infamous, climbs was due and there would be no more hiding on Stage 18.

First the Pink Jersey, Joao Almeida was dropped as Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers) put in a phenomenal, selfless effort guiding Tao up the climb at a relentless pace. The time-trail specialist from Southern Australia gave everything up a climb that broke even the mountain specialist riders. One by one riders fell of the back, including Wilco Kelderman, Team Sunweb’s leader.

Only Jai Hindley from Perth, Western Australia, would hold the wheel of the Ineos pair and in the end it would be the Australian that took the stage. But Geoghegan Hart would move from almost three minutes off the lead to within 15 seconds.

Perhaps the defining moment of Geoghegan Hart’s win was to come on Stage 20 as the peloton headed three times up Sestriere. Ineos sent all its troops and put in a stint at the front, thinning the peloton down to just the favourites then one by one they all dropped off including the new Pink Jersey, Wilco Kelderman.

Rohan Dennis again proved to be an incredible new addition to the Ineos Team single handedly dragging the two young GC contenders up the climbs again and again. But at one moment Geoghegan Hart seemed to lose the wheel of his teammate, and it seemed he just didn’t have it in him to ride at this pace. Jai Hindley stuck-fast to the Hackney rider’s wheel must have licked his lips, it seemed as if Geoghegan Hart was about to break, or at least could be broken at will.

On the final ascent of Sestriere Hindley tried to attack in the final kilometres, but Geoghegan Hart stuck to him, The Sunweb man tried again and again on the slopes but Geoghegan Hart would not be shaken. Either he had got a second wind, or had been bluffing before, or had made a mistake, but suddenly the Londoner looked at ease and strong. Hindley couldn’t break him and what’s more, Dennis wouldn’t be left behind either putting in a monumental effort for his new team in support of the new de facto team leader, Geoghegan Hart, and perhaps breaking the confidence of Hindley.

As they approached the line, Dennis dropped off allowing the two young riders to battle to the finish line for the all-important bonus seconds and the stage win. Perhaps Hindley had burned himself out trying to attack Geoghegan Hart but in the end Geoghegan Hart sprinted past the Australian with an effort no one could have expected after he briefly lost the wheel of Dennis on the second ascent of the Sestriere.

The two men went into the final Stage 21 on the same overall time for the first time in Grand Tour history and it was one of the most exciting Giro’s to watch. Two riders who had not expected to be competing for overall victory, through circumstance and talent, went into the final day with not even a second to separate them.

In the end it was Geoghegan Hart who reign supreme. On paper, coming into the 15.7km final time trial, Tao had the upper hand, having beaten Hindley 7-2 in previous Individual Time Trials, but it would have been a brave person to bet on the outcome of this most peculiar Giro d’Italia.

He rolled across the line beneath the Duomo di Milano and believed he had done enough, but it wasn’t until Jai Hindley crossed the line 25 seconds slower that he could kiss his partner, professional cyclist, Hannah Barnes and finally celebrate being only the second Briton ever to win the Giro d’Italia.

After that Tour de France, and that Tour of Flanders, and that Giro d’Italia, it’s now over to the Vuelta a Espana… We had to wait a while, but what a year it’s been for cycling and what a chance to just for a moment forget about the pandemic that roars on around the world.

Before the time trial Geoghan Hart tweeted: “Sunday’s for me will always be playing football on the marshes and going to Brick Lane market with my old man & brother. Today is just another Sunday. I haven’t seen my family in 10months, but they are always with me”

By the end of this Sunday he was the champion of the 103rd Giro d’Italia

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WBBL won’t take a knee, but will instead conduct pre-game Indigenous ceremonies

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The WBBL's eight clubs are taking part in a Indigenous barefoot circle ceremony instead of taking the knee as part of a player-driven initiative to start the tournament on Sunday.

As Australian sport grapples with how to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement, the country's female cricketers are continuing a rite that started last season.

Australia star Ash Gardner, who is of Indigenous heritage, took part in a barefoot ceremony with other WBBL players on Saturday.Credit:Getty Images

A group of 15 players, including the five Indigenous players in the league – Ash Gardner, Hannah Darlington, Anika Learoyd, Ella Haywood and Mikayla Hinkley – and eight club captains took part in a barefoot ceremony on Saturday.

They then decided players from each team would conduct their own circles before games on Sunday.

The national men's team was slammed by West Indies great Michael Holding for not taking a knee during the tour of England.

England captain Heather Knight had urged WBBL players to take a knee but her Australian colleagues believe the barefoot ceremony is a more appropriate manner to acknowledge Indigenous customs.

"I just think it is positive thing that we’ll have one consistent act across the competition to no only recognise first nation’s people but to reinforce our commitment against racism in this country and around the world," national vice-captain and Sydney Thunder skipper Rachael Haynes said.

"It was really important for leaders of all teams – and all also the playing cohort – that we were doing something that was symbolic and sensitive to the situation. I’m really pleased we’ll do this.

"I think the great thing about it is it’s another learning opportunity, to understand why we’re recognising the piece of land we’re playing on and the people it belongs to. I feel really positive about it and I’m glad the competition is united in its approach."

Players will wear the Walkabout Wickets emblem, designed by Aunty Fiona Clarke, on their team strip. The league will also celebrate Indigenous culture during NAIDOC week next month.

Darlington, 18, spoke to her teammates this week about her heritage.

"It’s a common practice for the Indigenous [cricket] girls to have a yarning circle, and to chat about their cultures," Darlington said.

"Coming into a team where not everyone might be aware of Indigenous culture is really nice. It would be very special if anything I’ve said had a powerful impact."

Meanwhile, Australia's superstar Ellyse Perry will make her return to top flight cricket after almost eight months out of the game.

There had been doubts if the all-rounder would be able to bowl upon her return from a serious hamstring injury but Perry has been cleared to showcase her skills with bat and ball against crosstown rival the Thunder.

Ellyse Perry makes her return from injury for the Sydney Sixers on Sunday.Credit:Getty Images

Perry has not played an official game since tearing her hamstring off the bone in Australia's final group match of the Twenty20 World Cup in March.

She had been aiming to return at international level during the white-ball series against New Zealand but suffered a minor injury to another part of the muscle.

"She’s good to go. She’s been bowling and batting unrestricted at training, I don’t see any reason why she is not going to play," Sixers coach Ben Sawyer, who is also part of the national women's team's set up, said.

"She has worked amazingly hard in her rehab to get to this point and she should be applauded for the effort that she has made to not only return but to also work on aspects of her game to make her even better and I am excited to see that out on the park this tournament."

This season's WBBL is being played entirely out of Sydney due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cricket Australia has set up a hub in Sydney Olympic Park to house players, coaches and support staff for the duration of the 59-game tournament.

The WBBL this season features 21 internationals, all of whom undertook 14 days of quarantine to take part in the biggest Twenty20 league in the women's game.

WBBL team-byteam

Adelaide Strikers
Last year's runner-up have secured South Africa young gun Laura Wolvaardt but the loss of the world's No.1 T20 all-rounder Sophie Devine is a big blow.

Brisbane Heat
Star spinner Jess Jonassen takes over as captain of the defending champions, who have a considerable hole to fill in the batting after Beth Mooney's move west to Perth.

Hobart Hurricanes
Plenty of movement for the Tasmanians, whose biggest signing is New Zealand wicketkeeper Rachel Priest. Speedster Tayla Vlaeminck's injury really hurts.

Melbourne Renegades
Amy Satterthwaite's return is a huge boost for one of last season's semi-finalists while in Molly Strano, Sophie Molineux and Georgia Wareham they have one of the best spin combinations in the league.

Melbourne Stars
National captain Meg Lanning is back from the west as part of wholesale changes to a squad which finished bottom, while new coach Trent Woodhill is one of the sharpest thinkers in the Twenty20 format.

Perth Scorchers
Meg Lanning's move home has been offset by Beth Mooney's arrival from Brisbane while the signing of New Zealand all-rounder Sophie Devine and England leggie Sarah Glenn gives them scope to improve on a semi-final finish.

Sydney Sixers
The glamour team of the league with world-class pair Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy, and star in waiting Ash Gardner. Remarkably settled for a side which missed the finals for the first time but questions will be asked if they stumble again.

Sydney Thunder
The western Sydney club will be aiming for finals after signing all-rounder Sammy-Jo Johnson and English pair Heather Knight and Tammy Beaumont. Watch out for teen sensation Phoebe Litchfield … after she finishes her exams.

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Two best photos of the AFL season are absolute crackers

It’s official: These are the two best footy photos of the year.

The Australian Football Media Association (AFMA) announced the winners of its annual awards presentation and a couple of cracking snaps took top prize.

The gong for Best Action Photo went to Quinn Rooney of Getty Images for a picture of Geelong star Mark Blicavs and his handball during the Cats’ qualifying final against Collingwood.

Catch Fox Footy’s Grand Final Week coverage on Kayo. Stream all the latest news and insight right up until first bounce plus half-time and full-time analysis from the Fox Footy commentary team. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >

Quinn Rooney caught Mark Blicavs in full flight.Source:Getty Images

The Herald Sun’s Michael Klein came out on top in the other category of Best News or Feature Photo.

As COVID-19 caused chaos and forced the league to plan a season like no other, Klein’s snap of an MCG devoid of fans impressed the judges.

He captured the first bounce of the opening match of the season between Richmond and Carlton — a scene we’re unlikely to see ever again.

Michael Klein captured an eerie scene complete with empty stands.Source:AAP

In other awards, The Sunday Times’ Glen Quartermain was crowned Best News Reporter for his exclusive story that revealed Geelong champion Graham “Polly” Farmer was the first professional AFL player to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a brain injury caused by repetitive trauma to the head.

The ABC’s Russell Jackson won Best Feature Writer for his long-form work on ex-St Kilda star Robert Muir and the persecution and racism that dogged his football career.

Jake Niall of The Age won the award for Best Opinion and Analysis and Lauren Wood of the Herald Sun was top of the tree when it came to Best AFLW Reporting.

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Arsenal stars Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Torreira react to blunt Mesut Ozil statement

Arsenal stars Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Torreira appear to have thrown their support behind exiled midfielder Mesut Ozil after the German was left out of Mikel Arteta’s 25-man Premier League squad this week.

Ozil was the most notable absentee from Arsenal’s Premier League squad, having already missed out on the Europa League list.

The German’s time at the club appears to be nearing the end, with nothing to suggest he will be offered an extension past the expiration of his current contract, which runs out next summer.

Ozil hasn’t played any part this season, and the last time he graced a pitch was back in March before the lockdown.

After the Premier League season resumed, Ozil was included in matchday squads for games against Brighton and Southampton, but failed to make it off the bench.

JUST IN: Liverpool suffer Virgil van Dijk injury blow as issues ‘extend beyond the ACL’

This summer, there was speculation that Arsenal were keen to offload him – considering his £350,000-per-week salary is the highest at the club.

However, due to the size of his contract, takers were few and far between, and it now seems he will walk away for free next year instead.

The player himself is clearly keen to stay at the Emirates, and posted an emotional message on Twitter after the squad list was announced.

In the statement, he criticised Arsenal for showing a lack of loyalty to him, and expressed that London still feels like home to him, while vowing to continue to fight to regain his place in the team.

Rival manager explains problem Chelsea boss Frank Lampard had with Christian Pulisic
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The post, which he also shared on Instagram, was liked by current Arsenal defender Mustafi, who he has also played alongside for the German national side.

Lucas Torreira, who was offloaded by Arteta to Atletico Madrid this summer, also liked the post, as did former Gunners Alex Iwobi and Santi Cazorla.

Torreira was also frozen out under Arteta, having played a bit-part role towards the end of last campaign, though he failed to make any appearances this season.

In Ozil’s statement, he appeared to give his support to the Arsenal manager, explaining that he felt good with the way the team developed after his appointment.

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He wrote: “This is a difficult message to write to the Arsenal fans that I’ve not played for over the past few years.

“I’m really deeply disappointed by the fact that I’ve not been registered for the Premier League season for the time being.

“Upon signing my new contract in 2018, I pledged my loyalty and allegiance to the club that I love, Arsenal, and it saddens me that this has not been reciprocated. “As I have just found out, loyalty is hard to come by nowadays.

“I’ve always tried to remain positive from week to week that there’s maybe a chance to get back in the squad soon again. That’s why I kept silent so far.

“Before the Coronavirus break I was really happy with the development under our new coach Mikel Arteta – we’ve been on a positive way I would say my performances were on a really good level.

“But then things changed, again, and I was no longer allowed to play football for Arsenal. What else can I say?

“London still feels like home, I still have many good friends in this team, and I still feel a strong connection with the fans of the club.

“No matter what, I will keep fighting for my chance and not let my 8th season at Arsenal end like this.

“I can promise you that this hard decision won’t change anything in my mindset – I will continue to train as best as I can and wherever possible use my voice against inhumanity and for justice.”

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Marcus Rashford strikes late again to earn Manchester United another famous win in Paris

If the victory at the Parc des Princes in March of last year was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s greatest night in charge of Manchester United, this may be their greatest performance. On their return to Paris, Marcus Rashford once again struck late to ensure that United made a winning start to their Champions League campaign.

There has been much valid criticism of Solskjaer – not least in these pages, not least in the last few weeks – but even the sceptics must admit that his preferred style of play is tailor-made to produce results like this. Paris Saint-Germain were a shadow of the side which reached the final of this competition just two months ago.

Neymar was largely anonymous. Kylian Mbappé carried more menace but was expertly handled by Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Axel Tuanzebe. United both nullified Paris’ greatest threats and posed some of their own. Yet one moment appeared as though it would be their undoing.

Anthony Martial’s own goal at the start of the second half looked as though it would deny United three important points. Solskjaer’s side had taken the lead through a re-taken Bruno Fernandes penalty and were excellent value for their lead, but a momentary lapse in concentration from Martial on a corner could have proved costly.

But with three minutes of normal time remaining, Rashford spun on his heels and struck to inflict Paris’ first group stage home defeat in 16 years. Semi-finalists RB Leipzig due to visit Old Trafford next week and though Group H was touted as the most difficult following the draw at the start of this month, it may just suit United right down to the ground.

United’s only disappointment at the end of the first half was that they were only one goal ahead. Solskjaer’s players executed his game plan to perfection in the opening 45 minutes, flummoxing Paris in the process. Like on their last visit to the Parc des Princes, United were happy to cede possession in exchange for space on the counter-attack. It worked.

But even with practically everything going to plan, United still required a Fernandes penalty to put them ahead. Solskjaer’s captain for the evening put his miss at Newcastle on Saturday to the back of his mind and stepped up once again after Martial was tripped by Amadou Diallo.  

His tame kick was saved by Keylor Navas, but only after the Paris goalkeeper had encroached with both feet off the goal-line. Much to Neymar’s annoyance, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz ordered a re-take and Fernandes won the battle of wits at the second attempt, rolling the ball to the bottom-right once again but sending Navas to the bottom-left.

Those expecting an immediate response from Paris would be disappointed. Last season’s runners-up had drawn two saves from David de Gea in early stages but otherwise badly struggled for momentum. It said everything that Tuanzebe – making his first United appearance of the calendar year – had Mbappé in his pocket.

Very few defences keep Mbappé quiet for long, however. At the start of the second half, shortly after Marcus Rashford had wasted one promising United counter-attack, De Gea denied European football’s most explosive young forward, parrying a goal-bound shot after Mbappé had turned Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan-Bissaka inside out.

Paris were improving – Tuchel had responded to their lack of attacking presence by introducing Everton loanee Moise Kean – but their equaliser was a gift. Martial knew very little about his own goal until he opened his eyes, turned around and saw the ball behind De Gea and nestling in the far side of the net.

It was a mistake and mistakes are punished at this rarefied level, while rare chances to rectify them must be taken. Martial nearly atoned for his error at the other end of the pitch minutes later, meeting a Luke Shaw cross after the breakdown of a corner, but his header cleared the crossbar from six yards.

But Paris could not make United pay. Mbappé was foiled time and again by the magnificent Tuanzebe and De Gea denied Neymar a goal from his first telling contribution. Otherwise, it was all United. It fell to Rashford to make the difference, only this time not from the penalty spot.

Instead, he collected substitute Paul Pogba’s pass outside the penalty area, turned away from the attentions of Danilo Pereira and took aim. Thomas Tuchel is a known admirer of Rashford’s talents, though he will not have enjoyed the sight of the ball arcing out Navas’ reach and into the far corner. 

This may only have been an opening group game rather than a knock-out, but Solskjaer has his second famous night in Paris.

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Why the Dodgers should worry about Ji-Man Choi, the most fun player in the World Series

Ji-Man Choi sums up the Tampa Bay Rays pretty well. He’s a 6-1, 260-pound first baseman playing in his fifth MLB organization. He’s unassuming. He does things differently. But just like the Rays, Choi makes it work.

The Rays and Choi will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2020 World Series beginning Tuesday night. The South Korean first baseman has turned into a fan favorite with the Rays, combining a left-handed bat with a smile that rarely leaves his face on the diamond. Even the broadcast cameras have gotten in on the act during the playoffs, frequently using Choi’s reactions as the Tampa Bay reaction shots after big moments.

Choi should start each game of the World Series that the Dodgers pitch a right-handed pitcher in, at least. And if the recent past is any indication, he’ll find success, too. The focus for L.A. might be on getting Randy Arozarena out, but with Choi hitting shortly behind him in the order, there’s more than one big bat to worry about. It’s Choi, the most fun player in the World Series, who could swing the series in the Rays’ favor.

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Why Ji-Man Choi’s success against Gerrit Cole should worry Dodgers

The pitcher Choi owns most in baseball won’t be opposing him in the World Series. That’s Yankees ace Gerrit Cole, and that’s in part because Choi homered off Cole for the fourth time in his career during the ALDS.

But even though Cole won’t be on the other side, pitchers like Cole will be, guys with 100-mph fastballs and nasty breaking pitches. Even when Choi makes outs against good pitching, they’re not usually of the ugly variety. He puts up comptitive at-bats even against the best.

Choi homered in Game 5 of the ALCS off of Josh James, one of the nastiest relievers in baseball. Choi took a sharp curveball just down to open the at-bat, then took two 97-mph fastballs to work the count to 2-1. James tried to beat Choi down and in with a 96-mph heater, but Choi didn’t miss it. 

The Dodgers will send on all sorts of pitchers who can throw gas and really spin the baseball. The Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty recently wrote of Choi, “Ji-Man Choi takes an impressive amount of close pitches.” The types of competitive at-bats that Choi puts up against the most talented arms are the type of ABs that can swing a whole series. 

Choi doesn’t stop smiling

It doesn’t really matter the play. Choi smiles after striking out against a nasty pitch. He smiles after making plays in the field. He definitely smiles after hitting home runs. 

It’s hard to watch Choi and think anything other than, “This guy really enjoys being on the baseball field.” In a modern MLB that has in some ways become robotic — similar mechanics, similar approaches, similar outcomes — Choi’s smile can stand out. You can get a good look at Choi’s enthusiasm in this clip from Cut4: 

Earlier this season, after hitting a cue-shot single, Choi demonstrated that he’d be a great pool player (who’d have a smile on his face playing that game, too).

And check out how happy Choi was in this Instagram post during and after fishing with his family in South Korea during quarantine. 

Family fishing time. 🐟🐟🐟 손목운동 제대로 했음!!😁 •영종도 정성레저바다 낚시터 🎣•

A post shared by 만지 (@ji_man_choi) on

Choi can pick it

Choi had been dealing with a hamstring injury that has prevented him from consistently playing the field since mid-September. But Tampa Bay has trusted Choi at first base during the ALDS and ALCS, suggesting he’ll continue to man that spot during the World Series. Choi’s frame wouldn’t point to him being a great fielder, but his stats in 2020 were above average, and he passes the eye test with the soft hands he uses to pick the ball out of the dirt.

Fangraphs shows Choi was above average in both Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (1.7) and Range Runs Above Average (1.3). That’s an improvement on being a slightly negative fielder in 2019, so maybe he breaks down about even overall. But it sure is fun to watch Choi play first base.

And check out this quick montage of Choi’s first-base mastery during the Rays’ series win over the Astros.

Choi can hit right-handed, too

Choi is officially a left-handed hitter. He’s not a switch hitter. Yet earlier this season, Choi hit a home run right-handed. Choi taught himself to switch-hit in 2015 but hadn’t broken it out in game action. That changed July 26.

His first time batting right-handed in the major leagues ended with a strikeout, so it seemed that maybe the experiment would end. Nope. Batting against Toronto’s Anthony Kay for a second time from the right side, Choi launched a ball deep to left-center and out of Tropicana Field.

Baseball Reference’s splits page appears to get a bit thrown off in how to classify Choi’s right-handed at-bats, but it looks like he’s tried hitting from the right side about 10 times in 2020. It’s unlikely we’ll see Choi try that in the World Series — the platoon-minded Rays are more likely to pinch hit than openly allow Choi to do that. But who’s to say Choi won’t walk up and position himself in the right-handed batters’ box all by himself? It worked once this year already, after all. 

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