Catalan concern: Lionel Messi’s open-play goal drought suggests Barcelona’s off-field problems are manifesting on the pitch

Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to arch-rivals Real Madrid marked the sixth successive game in which Lionel Messi has failed to score from open play, suggesting the tense accord between the player and club is far from steady.

Messi plunged Barcelona into chaos in August when he announced his intention to leave the club on a free transfer prior to the start of the current La Liga season.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner cited language in his contract which he said guaranteed him the right to leave the club at a time of his choosing.

However, both Barcelona and La Liga disputed this and Messi opted to stay as a potential showdown in court loomed. 

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Despite initially promising signs, the evidence on the pitch suggests that there remains an imbalance at the Camp Nou. The home defeat leaves the club languishing in 12th place in the Spanish top division, already six points behind league leaders Real Madrid, as the pressure starts to ramp up on new boss Ronald Koeman. 

Barcelona have dropped points in three of their first five league games. In addition to the stinging defeat to Real, they could only a muster a 1-1 draw with Europa League specialists Sevilla and also suffered a shock 1-0 reverse to Getafe. 

Questions will now be asked of Messi, whose two goals this season have both come from the penalty spot.

While his performance in Saturday’s Clasico showed promise, he was once again heavily marshaled by the Real Madrid backline – with Sergio Ramos expertly quashing one of Messi’s trademark slaloming runs in the final minute of the game.

So far this season, Koeman has been criticized by some – including his French forward Antoine Griezman – for not selecting his players in their most effective positions, something which suggests that the Dutchman hasn’t quite decided how to best deploy his best weapons.

Indeed, with so much of Barcelona’s dominance over the last decade or more reliant on Messi’s consistency of excellence, there will no doubt be concern in the club’s corridor of powers as to what to do should their talisman’s goals dry up.

Messi was the club’s top scorer last season with 31 goals in all competitions – but this was his lowest seasonal tally since the 2007-08 season. Add to that the sale of Messi’s strike partner, Luis Suarez, to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona’s forward options look increasingly anaemic. 

However, it must also be noted that Messi’s decline – if we can call it that – is a natural thing for a player in his 34th year, and even Messi has admitted that he will be forced to adapt his game as his age advances.

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Messi converted his penalty to give Barca the lead. © AFP
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I think less and less about scoring goals. I’m starting to step back more and more to be the creator rather than the one who finishes,” Messi said earlier this year.

Obviously I like scoring, and if I have a chance I’ll take it, but every time I go on to the pitch I’m less focused on scoring goals and more focused on the game. I’ve never been obsessed with goals. 

I understand that people will talk about it when I stop scoring, so many, but that’s part of the game, part of growing as a player and adapting to the times, to be the best player both for yourself and for the team.”

Lionel Messi may not have left Barcelona, but did his goals?

VIDEO of NYPD officers blaring ‘Trump 2020’ through patrol car loudspeaker SETS OFF liberals

Critics are taking to social media to express outrage over a video showing three NYPD cops in Brooklyn using their patrol vehicle to say “Trump 2020,” behavior that would be prohibited for an officer.

Multiple videos show the incident, which appeared to involve at least three officers, on Saturday night from multiple angles. 

An officer can be seen blocking a crosswalk with his vehicle in one video taken from a distance. He says “Trump 2020” through the car’s loudspeaker and encourages people to record him and post it to their social media. A man can be heard cursing at the officer, as the cop calls him a “tough guy” through the loudspeaker. Two other officers stand outside the vehicle. 

A second video recorded closer to the car shows the person to whom the officer was talking. The man recording the footage tells the officer to say “Trump 2020” again, and the cop eventually complies, leading the videographer to call him a “f**king fascist.”

Officers are prohibited from endorsing any political candidates or expressing political views while on duty. 

The video has set off Trump critics on social media, with some even trying to identify and dox the cops.

“This officer should be fired,” pundit Kurt Bardella tweeted

“Meanwhile, NYPD is using taxpayer dollars to blast ‘Trump 2020’ from their loudspeakers,” activist Matt Sutton added

The New York City Police Department has announced that they are investigating the incident as officers “must remain apolitical.”

New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea called the video “unacceptable” in his own statement.

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‘US doesn’t know who it’s dealing with!’ Erdogan dismisses Washington’s threats over S-400 deployment

Turkey is not a “tribal state” that can be pushed around, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, dismissing the American warnings over its procurement of Russian-made S-400 anti-aircraft systems.

Ankara will see through the deployment of its S-400 systems, which will not be disrupted by any threats or sanctions, Erdogan made clear, speaking in the eastern Turkish city of Malatya on Sunday. The Turkish leader even dared Washington to go ahead and introduce any S-400-related sanctions it might be planning.

You don’t know who you’re dealing with. Whatever sanctions you have, don’t keep us waiting – introduce them. We paid for the F-35. You threatened us. You said, ‘Send the S-400s back to Russia.’ We are not a tribal state. We’re Turkey.

Erdogan’s tirade comes in response to recent remarks by the Pentagon, which, on Friday, blasted Turkey’s tests of the Russian-made systems. The US Department of Defense said it condemned the tests “in the strongest possible terms,” warning that Ankara’s activities might yield “serious consequences for our security relationship.”

“We have been clear and unwavering in our position: an operational S-400 system is not consistent with Turkey’s commitments as a US and NATO ally,” the Pentagon said.

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Russian S-400 missile air defence systems © Reuters / Vitaly Nevar
US issues more threats to NATO ally Turkey after Erdogan confirms tests of Russian-made S-400 systems

Turkey’s military, however, insists that’s not the case. On Saturday, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar spoke on the S-400 issue. Striking a significantly more reserved tone than Erdogan, the official insisted the S-400 procurement does not mean Turkey is alienating itself from NATO. Akar then pointed fingers at other nations within the alliance who operate Russian-made weaponry, namely S-300 air defense systems, taking a thinly veiled jab at Turkey’s neighbor and rival, Greece.

The S-400 purchase has been a major issue in US-Turkey relations for months. The controversial procurement has resulted in Turkey’s exclusion from America’s F-35 fighter jet program, and the country has been threatened with additional restrictions. Ankara bought the S-400s from Russia as part of a $2.5 billion contract last year, and the systems are expected to become fully operational by the end of 2020.

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Police use stun grenades to disperse protesters after massive march in Minsk, ‘gunfire’ reported (VIDEOS)

Belarusian police have used stun grenades to disperse protesters heading to President Alexander Lukashenko’s residence in central Minsk, after thousands of anti-government demonstrators peacefully marched through the streets.

A massive column of protesters proceeded through Minsk on Saturday, running into multiple police cordons and having to circumvent them. One such encounter turned out to be particularly fiery, as law enforcement used stun grenades to disperse the crowd.

Claims of rubber bullets being used against protesters have appeared in the media, while local police said they were checking reports of “gunfire” during clashes.

Footage circulating online shows several grenade blasts in the middle of a street, with protesters running away from law enforcement into a residential sector.

Following the barrage, multiple protesters were reportedly detained. The “riot control” measures were used after protesters amassed near a regional police HQ, Minsk law enforcement told RIA Novosti.

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Belarus protests: Dozens detained by cops & rubber bullets fired during another large anti-opposition march in Minsk (VIDEOS)

Saturday’s protests across Belarus were part of weekly anti-Lukashenko demonstrations, which have continued for nearly three months since the disputed August 9 presidential elections, at times drawing only a handful of people. This time, however, thousands turned up in Minsk to mark the eve of the date set as a so-called “ultimatum” by the opposition, which claims the election results were rigged, and wants the president to step down.

Opposition figure Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in Lithuania and is currently self-isolating after a Slovenian official she recently met tested positive for coronavirus, has threatened Lukashenko with strikes and mass protests starting on Monday. The president has repeatedly said in the past that he would not relent to outside pressure.

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‘Re-writing the history books’: Lewis Hamilton wins Portuguese Grand Prix to become MOST SUCCESSFUL Formula 1 driver of all time

Six-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed victory at the Portuguese Grand Prix in Portimao to seal his 92nd Grand Prix victory and move clear of Michael Schumacher in the sport’s all-time wins list.

Britain’s Hamilton fought back from a poor start to eventually overhaul teammate Valtteri Bottas before streaking clear to win by a colossal 25.6 seconds in a display of complete dominance over his Mercedes colleague and the rest of the field.

After he crossed the finish line, Hamilton’s race engineer told him over the radio, “You are re-writing the history books,” while team boss Toto Wolff confirmed his landmark stat, exclaiming, “Lewis! 92. 92.”

Hamilton was typically modest after the race as he paid tribute to his Mercedes team, which has dominated the rest of the field throughout the 2020 Formula 1 season.

The world champion said, “I owe it all to these guys here and back at the factory. It’s been such a privilege working with them. Today was tough, but it was all about temperatures.”

Hamilton finished the race in pain after radioing back to the pit to tell them he was suffering with cramp with seven laps remaining. But, despite the discomfort, Hamilton went on to set a series of fastest laps to stamp his authority on the rest of the field in a dominant display.

“I could never have dreamed of being where I am today,” he said.

“I didn’t have a magic ball when I chose to come to this team and partner with great people, but here I am and what I can tell you is I’m trying to make the most of it every single day.

“It’s going to take some time to sink in. I was still pushing flat out coming across the line.”

Hamilton’s success contrasted with his teammate, as Bottas once again had to play second fiddle to the Brit in what has become an increasingly frustrating season for the Finn.

“I was pushing hard but couldn’t go faster,” he complained after the race.

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Pope Francis includes first black American, a noted Trump critic, among 13 new cardinals

Pope Francis has announced 13 new cardinals, the most notable of which is Washington DC Archbishop Wilton Gregory, the first black American prelate to earn the honor.

They will be honored in a ceremony on November 28. 

Gregory was appointed Archbishop of DC in 2019, having served in cities that included Chicago and Atlanta. The churchman made a name for himself this year when he publicly criticized President Donald Trump over his visit to Washington’s Saint John Paul II Shrine. 

Black Lives Matter protesters had gathered in downtown DC to protest police brutality and had to be dispersed by law enforcement officers, reportedly with tear gas, in order for Trump and the First Lady to safely visit the church. The president was accused by critics of encouraging violent clashes between police and citizens simply to secure a photo opportunity. 

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Gregory said he found it “baffling and reprehensible” that “any Catholic facility” would allow itself to be “so egregiously misused and manipulated.” Pope John Paul II – who was posthumously canonized – had been an “ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings,” he added.

“He certainly would not [have] condone[d] the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter, or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” Gregory continued. 

In other public comments, Gregory has praised those who “take to the streets to protest injustice,” though he has claimed he is not partisan. 

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Spain declares state of emergency, imposes nationwide curfew to curb increasing Covid-19 infection rate

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez on Sunday declared a second nationwide state of emergency, granting his government powers to restrict basic freedoms, and introducing a nighttime curfew, as coronavirus cases surge in Spain.

The state of emergency will last for 15 days and could be extended up to May 9, if the extension is approved by parliament.

People across Spain have been ordered to stay at homes from 11pm to 6am, while gatherings have been limited to six people. Local officials have been given powers to restrict travel into and out of their communities.

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Madrid, Spain, September 18, 2020. © REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Spanish regions call on government to implement urgent curfew to stop the spread of coronavirus

Like many European counties, Spain has been struggling to contain the rapid resurgence of Covid-19. Prime Minister Sanchez called the situation on the spread of the disease “extreme,” noting that “all of Europe has been already adopting measures to limit the movement” of people.

The government hopes the tougher restrictions will help to bring the cases down to 25 per 100,000 people. That number is currently over 400 per 100,000. “We have a long journey ahead,” Sanchez said.

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Six million dollar man: Khabib Nurmagomedov gets career-high payout in final UFC fight – report

Khabib Nurmagomedov’s second round submission win against Justin Gaethje earned the Russian UFC champion a career-high purse of $6 million – but his final payout will likely be far higher for the last fight of his career.

Per estimates online, Khabib will take home disclosed pay of $6 million in addition to post-fight bonuses of $90,000 after his 13th successive win in the UFC and 29th overall career victory.

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Should these estimates be accurate, it matches the tally he received for his UFC 242 win against Dustin Poirier last year.

However, Nurmagomedov will almost certainly receive more this time around due to the pay-per-view points in his contract after UFC president Dana White confirmed to the media during fight week the UFC 254 was trending towards becoming one of the UFC’s most profitable box office events in their history.

The $6 million purse awarded to Nurmagomedov for his two most recent wins eclipses the career-high payouts of $3 million given to Conor McGregor for his UFC 229 loss to Nurmagomedov (who earned $2 million for that fight). McGregor also received a similar sum for his January win against Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone earlier this year.

Despite earning more in his last two fights than McGregor, the Irishman likely remains the sport’s biggest pay-per-view commodity as he added further millions to his fee due to additional payments from his highly-lucrative list of sponsors.

Justin Gaethje, meanwhile, is thought to have earned a little over $400,000 for his efforts in Abu Dhabi.

Nurmagomedov’s retirement rules out a potentially significant payday for what would have been his 30th career fight.

He had been linked in the media with a “legacy fight” with former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre is a contest which would have likely been a box office bonanza for all involved, while a rematch with Conor McGregor would have also earned Nurmagomedov another career-high payout.

Of course, despite his mixed martial arts career being over Nurmagomedov still has several further avenues in which to increase his wealth. His brand is as strong as any fighter in global combat sports and it remains to be seen if he would consider an exhibition boxing match with Floyd Mayweather in his future as has been mooted in the press several times in the past couple of years. 

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But, as ever with Nurmagomedov, the allure of money was never his prime motivation inside the cage and with his legacy now solidly enshrined in MMA history, he can be confident that not only is his own future secured but so too is the future of his family – a point which will no doubt satisfy the famously loyal champion. 

Germany’s top Covid-19 research body firebombed overnight in possible politically motivated arson attack – police

Unidentified perpetrators have thrown bottles and “incendiary devices” at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. The incident was relatively minor, but the target is a top institution leading the national effort to combat Covid-19.

The attack happened at around 2:40am on Sunday morning, the German police said. The projectiles were thrown at the facade of the building, breaking a window pane and producing some flames. A security guard put out the fire, which caused no injuries.

Whoever was behind the attack escaped the scene. The police said they are treating the investigation very seriously because it may have been a “politically motivated attempted arson.”

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The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) is the German federal government agency responsible for dealing with infectious diseases and formulating preventative healthcare policies. It has been at the forefront of the fight against Covid-19, providing guidelines, collecting and reporting national statistics, and otherwise responding to the pandemic.

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‘We’ll do all we can to avoid 2nd lockdown’: Italy imposes new Covid-19 restrictions amid record-high daily case growth

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has authorized a curfew on restaurants and bars, along with other tougher measures aimed at curbing the rapidly growing coronavirus infection rate.

The fresh restrictions will take effect on Monday and last until November 24. Under the new rules, all dining establishments, including bars and restaurants, are allowed to operate from 5am to 6pm. A maximum of four people can sit at a table, unless they are not living together.

Cinemas, theaters, casinos, gyms, spa, beauty salons, and swimming pools will be shut down again. Shops can trade only if they can ensure one-meter social distancing rules on the premises.

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People are “strongly recommended” to avoid using public and private transport, with the exception of traveling to work or school, or to see a doctor. Schools are allowed to remain open as well, but with a reduced capacity.

“The government has set itself a clear objective: we want to keep the epidemic curve under control. Only then we will be able to manage the pandemic and not get overwhelmed,” Conte told reporters. “Contact tracing works well, but it will become difficult if we have 20,000 [new] cases per day.”

Italy recorded 19,644 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday – the highest daily increase in infections since the start of the pandemic.

“We must do everything possible to protect the health and the economy, and to avert a second general lockdown,” Conte said, promising that, if all goes well, new restrictions will be lifted by Christmas.

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Italy was the first country in the world to impose a strict nationwide lockdown when it was badly hit by the first wave of the coronavirus in early March. Its hospitals were quickly overwhelmed with a sudden influx of Covid-19 patients, especially in the northern Lombardy region.

The government eventually relaxed nearly all the restrictions, but was forced to bring some of them back earlier this month as the infection rate grew rapidly.

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