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BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Philippe Coutinho admitted he was happy to be back in the Premier League after the Aston Villa forward marked his debut with a late equaliser in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Manchester United.
Steven Gerrard’s side were trailing by two goals in the closing stages at Villa Park before Coutinho worked his magic just days after arriving on loan from Barcelona.
Stepping off the bench in the 68th minute, Coutinho set up Jacob Ramsey’s 77th minute goal with a deft pass.
Five minutes later, the Brazilian latched onto Ramsey’s low cross with a cool finish from close-range to cap Villa’s fightback.
It was the perfect way for Coutinho to celebrate a welcome return to the English top-flight four years after leaving Liverpool to join Barca.
“I missed these games and the Premier League. I’m very happy to be here with my new teammates,” Coutinho told Sky Sports.
“It was a good start, we kept believing until the end, but we didn’t lose.”
Asked if he was nervous before making his Villa debut, Coutinho said: “Yes, a little bit, I don’t speak English very well, I prefer to be on the pitch than talking all the time.
“I’m happy, it was the first game and I want to work hard to improve and be in better shape.”
Coutinho has endured a difficult time at Barca and spent 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.
Villa boss Gerrard played with Coutinho at Liverpool and is convinced he can reignite the Brazil star’s career.
Coutinho was among the world’s best players when he left Liverpool, but he does not want to dwell on the reasons for his slump in Spain.
“There have been many ups and downs. It is in the past,” Coutinho said.
“I’m here and I’m focused on the objectives of the club and the manager and I want to do a good job to help my teammates and the club.”
RIYADH: When Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao take to the pitch in Riyadh on Sunday for the final of the Spanish Super Cup, it will be the third time they have faced each other in a month. This time, though, the first silverware of the season is up for grabs.
Reigning Super Cup champions Bilbao earned the chance to defend their title thanks to a 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid 2-1 on Thursday, after Real defeated Barcelona 3-2 in extra time the day before.
“We know this team really well because we’ve played them twice already in the past month,” Madrid first-team coach Carlo Ancelotti said during a pre-match press conference in the Saudi capital on Saturday. “Both those games were very competitive and it’ll be the same tomorrow.”
Real emerged victorious over Bilbao in both of their encounters in December. Their familiarity with each other means Sunday’s encounter at the King Fahd International Stadium could well be a tactical battle between both managers to see who learned the most from those recent match-ups.
Commenting on how often the two teams have met lately, Thibaut Courtois, Real’s first-choice goalkeeper, said: “It feels like the NBA, playing Athletic so many times.”
Asked about the recent defeats by Madrid, Bilbao manager Marcelino Toral said: “Madrid got off to a powerful start, in six minutes they penalized us, at San Mames. We have to avoid these situations.”
Ancelotti will have to manage without the services of star player Marco Asensio, who is dealing with a muscular injury and has been ruled out of the final. Real’s last appearance in a Super Cup final was in 2019-2020, when they defeated Atletico Madrid in Jeddah to lift the cup.
GAROUA: Mohamed Salah got back among the goals for Egypt on Saturday as his second-half strike handed the record seven-time African champions a crucial 1-0 win over Guinea-Bissau in Garoua that was not without controversy.
Salah’s first-time finish at the back post in the 69th minute got his and his team’s campaign in Cameroon up and running after they had lost 1-0 to Nigeria in their opening Group D game.
However, Guinea-Bissau were left fuming after a stunning 82nd-minute strike by Mama Balde was ruled out following a VAR review.
Egypt, who also hit the woodwork three times, will feel they deserved the victory on the balance of play and Carlos Queiroz’s team now need only draw their last group game against neighbours Sudan in Yaounde on Wednesday to guarantee safe passage to the last 16.
“It was a really tough game and we were a little bit lucky with the foul,” Salah admitted to broadcasters at the end of the match.
“We have to win our next game now to make sure we qualify and we will do our best to go as far as we can in the tournament.”
Salah, who had not scored in any of his previous six appearances for Egypt this season, struck the post with just 84 seconds played.
The Liverpool star was then involved at the start of the 18th-minute move that ended with Omar Marmoush cushioning the ball down for Mostafa Mohamed to send another shot off the upright.
Salah finally broke the deadlock midway through the second half when he met Amr El Solia’s floated ball to the back post with a first-time cushioned volley that Guinea-Bissau goalkeeper Jonas Mendes may feel he should have saved.
Balde thought he had equalised with a superb goal when he collected possession on the left wing, cut inside and unleashed a tremendous effort from just inside the box into the far corner.
However the referee ruled out the goal after reviewing the images, judging that Balde had grappled Egypt right-back Omar Kamal to the ground.
It was a let-off for the Pharaohs, who also survived in injury time when the lively Moreto Cassama’s piledriver was saved by Mohamed El Shenawy.
The small west African nation of Guinea-Bissau are appearing at their third straight AFCON having never qualified before 2017, but they are left still searching for their first win at the tournament after eight attempts.
 
NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe admits Newcastle United have “damaged” their chances of staying in the Premier League by dropping yet more home points.
The Magpies played out a 1-1 draw at St James’ Park with relegation rivals Watford, throwing away a 1-0 lead with just three minutes left to play.
It was a result that will keep United deep in the dropzone mire, with just 12 points and one win from their opening 20 games this campaign. They have also dropped a remarkable 21 points from winning positions this season.
Howe said: “It is particularly damaging to us because this was a chance to beat a direct rival. We were 1-0 up with minutes to go, it was even more of an opportunity.
“We know that we have damaged ourselves to a point, but you always have the opportunity to bounce back from that,” he said. “The games don’t get any smaller — they get bigger with every match.”
Interestingly, Howe admitted he saw positives in elements of the Magpies’ play against the Hornets, despite being played off the park for much of the second period.
“Our performance up until our goal I thought was good,” he said.
“When we scored, we went into a different way of playing. Our press dropped. We became deeper on the pitch and invited pressure.
“Watford created chances from our individual mistakes. I felt we brought them into the game and the goal typified that. We made a couple of errors when it mattered. We ultimately conceded and that has cost us the match.”
Ten games into his spell as manager, Howe’s side has claimed just one win. That solitary victory came in the clash against Burnley on Dec. 4.
In total, under Howe and predecessor Steve Bruce, it has been seven months, spanning two campaigns, yet just one Premier League win.
Does the head coach believe he should have made more of an impact? Addressing the question, Howe said: “Certainly, in terms of the win column, I am disappointed by it.
“If we look back at the games we have drawn, I thought Norwich, we should have won. The game today and I think other games we have drawn, you think in different moments. We seem intent with one goal, instead of looking for a second. One is never enough. We need to keep our attacking intent in games.
“It is disappointing. There is lots to improve on.”
MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic’s last-gasp bid to avoid deportation from Australia will hinge on the verdict of three court justices Sunday, in what is expected to be a final, decisive phase of his high-profile court battles Down Under.
Australia’s conservative government has for a second time ripped up Djokovic’s visa, saying his anti-vaccine views are a public threat and could cause “civil unrest” unless he is deported.
But Australia’s full Federal Court will hear the detained Serbian’s appeal in an emergency session from 9:30 am (2230GMT).
The hearing comes hours before the Australian Open is set to begin Monday, where world number one Djokovic still hopes to defend his title and secure an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam triumph.
Djokovic’s high-powered legal team are expected to kick off proceedings, arguing his detention and his deportation are “illogical,” “irrational” and “unreasonable.”
If the 34-year-old loses, he will face immediate deportation and a three-year ban from Australia — dramatically shortening his odds of winning a championship he has bagged nine times before.
If he wins, it sets the stage for an audacious title tilt and will deal another humiliating blow to Australia’s embattled prime minister ahead of elections expected in May.
The court’s format — a panel of three justices — leaves little room to appeal any decision.
Scott Morrison’s government has tried and failed to remove Djokovic once before — on the grounds he was unvaccinated and that a recent Covid infection was not sufficient for a medical exemption.
A lower circuit judge ruled that officials made procedural errors in that decision.
For a few days, Djokovic was free to train before a second visa revocation and a return to a notorious Melbourne immigration detention facility.
For millions around the world, Djokovic is best known as a gangly all-conquering tennis champion with a ferocious backhand and some polarizing views on science.
But in court filings, Australia has cast him as a figurehead for anti-vaxxers and a catalyst for public disorder.
Djokovic’s presence in Australia “may foster anti-vaccination sentiment,” immigration minister Alex Hawke argued, justifying his use of broad executive powers to revoke the player’s visa.
Not only could Djokovic encourage people to flout health rules, Hawke said, but his presence could lead to “civil unrest.”
Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions — believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements.
Experts say the case has taken on significance beyond the fate of one man who happens to be good at tennis.
“The case is likely to define how tourists, foreign visitors and even Australian citizens view the nation’s immigration policies and ‘equality before the law’ for years to come,” said Sanzhuan Guo, a law lecturer at Flinders University.
The case has also been seized on by culture warriors in the roiling debate over vaccines and how to handle the pandemic.
The minister admitted that Djokovic is at “negligible” risk of infecting Australians, but argued his past “disregard” for Covid-19 regulations may pose a risk to public health and encourage people to ignore pandemic rules.
The tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.
Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling, youth tennis event and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Friday accused Australia of “mistreating” the country’s biggest star, and a national hero.
“If you wanted to ban Novak Djokovic from winning the 10th trophy in Melbourne why didn’t you return him immediately, why didn’t you tell him ‘it is impossible to obtain a visa’?” Vucic said on Instagram.
“Novak, we stand by you!“
Djokovic is currently tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles each.
Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.
“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“The Australian Open will be a great Australian Open with or without him.”
Defending Australian Open women’s champion Naomi Osaka called the Djokovic saga “unfortunate” and “sad” and said it could be the defining moment of his career.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation. He’s such a great player and it’s kind of sad that some people might remember (him) in this way,” she said.
NEWCASTLE: In football, winning matches is like a habit. It’s infectious.
Sadly, so too is not winning them. And Newcastle United have developed a routine they just can’t shake. Draws and losses have become the norm for the Magpies, whether under Steve Bruce and Eddie Howe thereafter.
And in a relegation battle, if that’s what you can call it, this obsession — almost addiction — is an incredibly concerning facet of a football club that otherwise oozes confidence and positivity.  
A 1-1 draw with Watford at home was a disappointing outcome to a match billed as a “must-win” for Newcastle.
A jinking Allan Saint-Maximin strike had given the Magpies an early second-half advantage, only for Joao Pedro to steal in with a late header to further dent United’s bid for survival.
Head coach Eddie Howe handed Premier League debuts to two United new boys, with multi-million dollar frontman Chris Wood leading the line and Kieran Trippier, who made his full debut in the FA Cup last week, at right-back.
The Magpies started the encounter on the front foot with Joelinton rattling the woodwork within the opening five minutes. A Ryan Fraser cross was flicked goalwards by the big Brazilian, only for the corner of bar and post to deny him his second strike of the campaign.
In a bright opening, Josh King, a constant threat for the Hornets, fizzed one past the post when set free down the United right.
Having been the target of Newcastle fan criticism under previous manager Steve Bruce, Scotland international Fraser has been rejuvenated and his crossing from the right, and combinations with Trippier, were a first-half high point.
His delivery saw Joelinton and Wood both go close with headers.
Goalless at the break the game was entertaining in many ways, but severely lacking in quality from either side in the final third.
That all changed just moments into the second period when Saint-Maximin, lifeless for 49 minutes, sparked this encounter with his wizardry on the wing.
The Frenchman left faltering Jeremy Ngakia for dead down the left before cutting in to smash home and unlock joyous celebrations from yet another sell-out St James’ Park.
And while it was everything Howe and the United fanbase wanted and more, they surrendered the initiative so easily in the period that followed.
As the Watford possession and pressure grew so too did the angst among the United faithful.
Too passive was the approach from the bench, too reticent, too accepting of their fate.
And while they were let off not once, as King was thwarted by Martin Dubravka, but twice, when former United midfielder Moussa Sissoko missed good opportunities, it was third time unlucky for the Magpies as Pedro rose highest to head brilliantly past the Slovak stopper to level the scoreline.
It was no less than the visitors deserved, having dominated much of the second half.
With that goal, United dropped back into the bottom three — they lifted themselves out of it for 38 second-half minutes — and continued their unwanted record of dropping points from winning positions this season.
That’s 21 for the season, a trend that must be halted if they are to remain a Premier League outfit beyond May.
Howe has enjoyed home games against Brentford, Norwich City, Cambridge United and now Watford to claim victories. United have won none. He’s also had carte blanche in the transfer market and been allowed to spend around $50 million on new recruits so far this month.
Looking at those facts, it is difficult to know what it will actually take before we see any significant upturn in fortunes on Tyneside.
The clock is ticking, and winnable games will soon become few.
Time is not on United or Howe’s side. 
Talk is cheap, and so too are transfers in the grand scheme of things when it comes to owners PIF, but results are proving even too rich for the Magpies, no matter the backing.
The cost of relegation from the top flight — unthinkable to the new owners — is even more difficult to put a price on.

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