Värvar målvakt från SHL-rivalen

Det har gått en tid sedan det stod klart att Frölunda tvingats ge sig ut på målvaktsjakt inför kommande säsong, då Johan Mattsson valde att gå till KHL och Dinamo Riga.

Nu har klubben hittat sin ersättare.

Enligt uppgifter till SportExpressen är Växjö Lakers målvakt Erik Källgren klar för klubben och värvningen kommer att presenteras när Växjös säsong är färdigspelad.

Källgren spelar just nu SM-slutspel med Växjö, som kliver in i semifinalen mot Örebro, där han är reserv bakom Viktor Fasth.

Nästa säsong ska han konkurrera med Niklas Rubin i Frölunda.

– Jag fattar att ni måste göra ert jobb, men jag kommenterar inte silly season-rykten, utan vi jagar på, säger Fredrik Sjöström i Frölunda.

Den här säsongen har Erik Källgren noterats för 21 matcher i Växjötröjan under grundserien, där han höll en räddningsprocent på 91.1 procent.

Golden Knights become first NHL team to clinch playoff spot in 2020-21

The Sharks gave them a good fight — sometimes literally — but the Vegas Golden Knights became the first team to clinch a playoff spot during the NHL’s truncated 2020-21 season.

Jonathan Marchessault finished the night with four points, while Marc-Andre Fleury earned career win 487 as the Golden Knights beat the Sharks 5-2. The Golden Knights won their eighth in a row to clinch that playoff spot.

Golden Knights first NHL team to clinch playoff spot after beating Sharks

In what was a physical game (particularly early on), the Sharks were able to stick with the Golden Knights at first. Just minutes in, Timo Meier gave San Jose a 1-0 lead, and Tomas Hertl‘s nice shot put the Sharks up 2-1 midway through the second period.

The Golden Knights just kept sending waves of pressure vs. the Sharks — that’s what they do, and that’s why they’ve clinched a playoff spot so early.

(That, and yes, the Avalanche have been on pause thanks to COVID.)

Eventually, the Golden Knights started to got to relatively unknown Sharks goalie Josef Korenar. Korenar managed to keep the game 1-1 through the first period despite Vegas generating a 19-8 shots on goal advantage, but the dam eventually broke.

Mark Stone continues to look dangerous as a net-front presence on the power play:

That Stone goal made it 2-2, and then Alex Tuch scored a late-second-period goal that kind of looked like it took place on the man advantage:

After becoming the first NHL team to clinch a playoff spot for 2020-21, the Golden Knights can at least ponder questions of rest vs. rust. (With two capable goalies in Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner, they don’t even need to strain the boundaries of credulity. Other teams might feel more like they’re throwing games away when opting for backups.)

Of course, the Golden Knights will also put a great emphasis on beating out the Avalanche for the West Division title.

West Division race update

After winning their eighth consecutive game, the Golden Knights clinched that playoff spot, and now the race for the top West Division spot looks like this.

Golden Knights: 33-11-2, 68 points in 46 games played
Avalanche: 30-9-4, 64 points in 43 GP
Wild: 29-13-3, 61 points in 45 GP

(Meanwhile, the Sharks couldn’t gain ground on the Coyotes and Blues in the West Division playoff race. Arizona lost to Minnesota, while the Blues were idle on Wednesday.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule

All 31 NHL Teams Featured Throughout Roughly 100 Games Across NBC and NBCSN; 21 Teams Make At Least Four Appearances

Schedule Features Wednesday Night Hockey and Tuesday Hockey Happy Hour Doubleheaders; More Than 75% of Teams Appear on Wednesday Nights

NBC Sports announced its full regular-season schedule that will feature all 31 NHL teams across roughly 100 games on NBC and NBCSN, beginning January 13 with a Wednesday Night Hockey tripleheader on NBCSN headlined by the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning against the Chicago Blackhawks.

NBC Sports will present a record 16 regular-season games on the NBC broadcast network, beginning Sunday, Jan. 17 when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

In December, the NHL announced a 56-game regular-season schedule per team for the 2020-21 season, as well as a divisional realignment which limits team matchups to intra-division play and minimizes team travel as much as possible.

 • No team will have more than seven exclusive appearances on NBC and NBCSN and 21 teams will have at least four national appearances this year.

 • Some teams will appear nationally more than seven times, but those games will be blacked out in the local market and shown on their local RSN.

Additional NHL NBC schedule highlights:

 • Wednesday Night Hockey Presented by New Amsterdam Vodka on NBCSN – More than 75% of NHL teams will appear on Wednesday nights on NBCSN, and most will feature doubleheaders (and in some cases tripleheaders) surrounding its Wednesday Night Hockey coverage, including both early and late start times.

 •Tuesday Hockey Happy HoursThree Tuesday Hockey Hour doubleheaders (Feb. 2, Feb. 9 and March 9) that will begin at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

 • NHL on NBC – NBC Sports will showcase the NHL 16 times on NBC – once per week on average during the 2020-21 season – marking the most-ever NHL regular-season games on NBC. In addition, the final matchup on Saturday, May 8, is TBD and will feature the most compelling game with playoff implications.

 • Sunday Night Hockey on NBCSNThere will be 10 Sunday Night Hockey matchups on NBCSN, featuring teams from all four divisions, all four Conference Final teams from the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and a majority of matchups featuring a traditional Western Conference team.

2020-21 NHL NBC REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EASTERN)

Wed., Jan. 13 Pittsburgh Philadelphia NBCSN PHI 6-3
  Chicago Tampa Bay NBCSN TB 4-1
St. Louis Colorado NBCSN STL 5-1
Sun., Jan. 17 Washington Pittsburgh NBC PIT 4-3 (SO)
Mon., Jan. 18 Columbus Detroit NBCSN CBJ 3-2
Boston N.Y. Islanders NBCSN NYI 1-0
Buffalo Philadelphia NBCSN BUF 6-1
  Arizona Vegas NBCSN VGK 4-2
Tues., Jan. 19 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-4
Wed., Jan. 20 Edmonton Toronto NBCSN EDM 3-1
Minnesota Anaheim NBCSN MIN 3-2
Thur., Jan. 21 Tampa Bay Columbus NBCSN TB 3-2 (OT)
Montreal Vancouver NBCSN MTL 7-3
Sun., Jan. 24 Detroit Chicago NBC CHI 6-2
Tues., Jan. 26 N.Y. Islanders Washington NBCSN WSH 3-2
Wed., Jan. 27 Chicago Nashville NBCSN NSH 2-1 (SO)
Mon., Feb. 1 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYR 3-1
Tues., Feb. 2 Buffalo N.Y. Islanders NBCSN PPD
Minnesota Colorado NBCSN COL 2-1
Wed., Feb. 3 Detroit Tampa Bay NBCSN TBL 5-1
Boston Philadelphia NBCSN BOS 4-3 (OT)
Sun., Feb. 7 Philadelphia Washington NBC PHI 7-4
Mon., Feb. 8 N.Y. Islanders N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYI 2-0
Tues., Feb. 9 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN PPD
Tampa Bay Nashville NBCSN TB 6-1
Wed., Feb. 10 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBCSN BOS 3-2 (OT)
Sun., Feb. 14 Washington Pittsburgh NBC PIT 6-3
Colorado Vegas NBCSN VGK 1-0
Mon., Feb. 15 N.Y. Islanders Buffalo NBCSN NYI 3-1
Tues., Feb. 16 Washington Pittsburgh NBCSN WSH 3-1
Wed., Feb. 17 Chicago Detroit NBCSN CHI 2-0
Winnipeg Edmonton NBCSN EDM 3-2
Sat., Feb. 20 Vegas Colorado NBCSN COL 3-2
Sun., Feb. 21 Philadelphia Boston NBCSN BOS 7-3
New Jersey Washington NBC WSH 4-3
Tues., Feb. 23 Pittsburgh Washington NBCSN PIT 3-2 (OT)
Wed., Feb. 24 N.Y. Rangers Philadelphia NBCSN PHI 4-3
Los Angeles St. Louis NBCSN LA 2-1
Sun., Feb. 28 Boston N.Y. Rangers NBC BOS 4-1
Detroit Chicago NBCSN CHI 7-2
Tues., March 2 Philadelphia Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-2
Wed., March 3 Washington Boston NBCSN WSH 2-1 (SO)
St. Louis Anaheim NBCSN STL 3-2
Sun., March 7 Buffalo N.Y. Islanders NBC NYI 5-2
Tampa Bay Chicago NBCSN TBL 6-3
  New Jersey Boston NBCSN NJ 1-0
N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-1
Tues., March 9 N.Y. Rangers Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 4-2
Chicago Dallas NBCSN DAL 6-1
Wed., March 10 Vegas Minnesota NBCSN MIN 4-3
Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN LAK 5-1
Sun., March 14 Los Angeles Colorado NBCSN COL 4-1
Mon., March 15 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN PHI 5-4 (OT)
Tues., March 16 Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN BOS 2-1
Wed., March 17 Philadelphia N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYR 9-0
  Edmonton Calgary NBCSN EDM 7-3
Sun., March 21 Vegas Los Angeles NBCSN LAK 3-1
Mon., March 22 Anaheim Minnesota NBCSN MIN 2-1
Tues., March 23 New Jersey Philadelphia NBCSN NJD 4-3
Wed., March 24 Anaheim Minnesota NBCSN MIN 3-2
  Buffalo Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 5-2
Los Angeles San Jose NBCSN SJ 4-2
Sun., March 28 N.Y. Rangers Washington NBC WSH 5-4
Columbus Detroit NBCSN DET 4-1
New Jersey Boston NBCSN NJ 1-0
  Nashville Chicago NBCSN NSH 3-2
Mon., March 29 N.Y. Islanders Pittsburgh NBCSN PIT 2-1
Tues., March 30 Carolina Chicago NBCSN CHI 2-1
Wed., March 31 Philadelphia Buffalo NBCSN BUF 6-1
Los Angeles Vegas NBCSN LAK 4-2
Thurs., April 1 Carolina Chicago NBCSN CAR 4-3
Minnesota Vegas NBCSN MIN 3-2 (SO)
Sun., April 4 Detroit Tampa Bay NBC DET 5-1
Dallas Carolina NBCSN CAR 1-0
Tues., April 6 Pittsburgh N.Y. Rangers NBCSN NYR 8-4
Wed., April 7 Edmonton Ottawa NBCSN EDM 4-2
Montreal Toronto NBCSN TOR 3-2
Tues., April 13 Philadelphia Washington NBCSN WSH 6-1
Wed., April 14 Colorado St. Louis NBCSN COL 4-3
Vegas Los Angeles NBCSN VGK 6-2
Thurs., April 15 Florida Tampa NBCSN TB 3-2 (OT)
Sat., April 17 Pittsburgh Buffalo NBC PIT 3-2
Sun., April 18 Washington Boston NBC BOS 6-3
  N.Y. Islanders Philadelphia NBCSN NYI 1-0 (OT)
Los Angeles Colorado NBCSN PPD
Mon., April 19 Detroit Dallas NBCSN DAL 3-2 (SO)
Tues., April 20 Buffalo Boston NBCSN BOS 2-0
Colorado St. Louis NBCSN PPD
Wed., April 21 Nashville Chicago NBCSN CHI 5-4 (OT)
  San Jose Vegas NBCSN VGK 5-2
Sat., April 24 Colorado St. Louis NBC 3 p.m.
Sun., April 25 Boston Pittsburgh NBC 3 p.m.
  Columbus Tampa Bay NBCSN 7 p.m.
Mon., April 26 Carolina Dallas NBCSN 7:30 p.m.
Tues., April 27 N.Y. Islanders Washington NBCSN 7 p.m.
Wed., April 28 St. Louis Minnesota NBCSN 7 p.m.
  Colorado Vegas NBCSN 9:30 p.m.
Thurs., April 29 Florida Chicago NBCSN 8 p.m.
  Calgary Edmonton NBCSN 9:30 p.m. (JIP)
Sun., May 2 Tampa Bay Detroit NBC 3 p.m.
Mon., May 3 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Tues., May 4 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Wed., May 5 Washington N.Y. Rangers NBCSN 7 p.m.
Thur., May 6 TBD TBD NBCSN TBD
Sat., May 8 TBD TBD NBC 3 p.m.
  TBD TBD NBCSN TBD

*subject to change

*Some games will be blacked out in local markets and televised in those markets by a regional carrier.

Shocks abound, opening day of upsets in Guimarães

by Ian Marshall

In the men’s singles, of the players who started the day the highest rated player in their respective groups, only Great Britain’s Paul Drinkhall, the no.5 seed, Slovakia’s Lubomir Pistej, the no.9 seed and Belgium’s Cédric Nuytinck, the no.10 seed, ended the day unbeaten.

A high rate of casualties, in the women’s singles, it was even higher; only the host nation’s Maria Xiao, the no.6 seed and Yuan Jia Nan of France, the no.9 seed, ended the day without a defeat against their names. Notably, Maria Xiao has concluded her first phase matches and is assured of top spot; Yuan Jia Nan has one match remaining, she meets Latvia’s Sabina Musajeva but is mathematically assured top place in the group.

Biggest surprise exit

Casualties, the biggest being Romania’s Ovidiu Ionecsu, his hopes of qualification for Tokyo 2020 have evaporated. One match remaining but whatever the outcome against Israel’s Tal Israeli, he cannot secure a top two finish.

On the opening day of play he was beaten by Spain’s Jesus Cantero (11-7, 12-10, 10-12, 11-9, 11-5) and by Italy’s Mihai Bobocica (7-11, 9-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6).

Bobocica ended the day unbeaten, he accounted for Tal Israeli in his opening match (11-8, 13-11, 11-7, 11-9) and now meets Jesus Cantero in his concluding contest. In his second match of the day Jesus Cantero experienced defeat at the hands of Israeli (6-11, 11-9, 11-9, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5).

Future in balance

Farewell to Ovidiu Ionecsu, for the remaining players who started the day, the leading names in the respective groups, the future lies in the balance. For Spain’s Alvaro Robles, the no.7 seed, Poland’s Jakub Dyjas, the no.8 seed and Finland’s Benedek Olah, the no.11 seed, it is one win and one defeat, the same for Great Britain’s Sam Walker.

The players to shine and, against the odds, end the day unbeaten were Aliaksandr Khanin of Belarus, Russia’s Vladimir Sidorenko, Hungary’s Adam Szudi and Luxembourg’s Eric Glod.

Eric Glod a man in form (Photo courtesy of organising committee)

Destiny out of hands

Similarly, in the women’s singles event, it is one win and one defeat for Luxembourg’s Sarah De Nutte, the no.7 seed, Italy’s Debora Vivarelli, the no.5 seed and Spain’s Galia Dvorak, the no.8 seed. Three players per group, initial phase matches concluded; their destiny is out of their hands.

Turkey’s Sibel Altinkaya, Great Britain’s Charlotte Carey and Ukraine’s Solomiya Brateyko, the players against whom they experienced defeat, will determine their fate.

Altinkaya accounted for De Nutte (12-10, 10-12, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-9), Carey beat Vivarelli (8-11, 9-11, 11-8, 12-10, 11-4, 11-9), Brateyko overcame Dvorak (14-12, 11-7, 11-4, 9-11, 9-11, 11-7).

One match remains

Likewise, for Serbia’s Izabela Lupulesku, the no.12 seed, Switzerland’s Rachel Moret, the no.10 seed, and Great Britain’s Tin-Tin Ho, the no.11 seed, it is one win, one defeat and one match remaining; a situation that applies also to the Belarus duo of Nadezhda Bogdanova the no.14 seed and Daria Trigolos, the no.13 seed.

Contrary to expectations, Croatia’s Mateja Jeger, Italy’s Giorgia Piccolin and Serbia’s Sabina Surjan alongside Prithika Pavade of France and Slovenia’s Katarina Strazar ended the day unbeaten, two matches played, two wins.

Katarina Strazar remained unbeaten, in her opening match she accounted for Lisa Lung (Photo courtesy of organising committee)

Play in the group stage concludes on Thursday 22nd April, the date on which the first round matches in both disciplines will commence.

Draw & Results

Laporta's Barcelona to-do list: Messi renewal, reduce debts, manage Super League backlash

After a rough start to the 2020-21 season, spring is in the air for Barcelona and there’s a lot to be hopeful for. Ronald Koeman’s side have cut the gap on league leaders Atletico Madrid to just five points (Atleti have played one game more) thanks to an 19-game unbeaten run — they’ve lost just once in 20 La Liga games since the Dec. 5 defeat to Cadiz — and have also won the Copa del Rey thanks to a dominant 4-0 performance against Athletic Bilbao. Coupled with Joan Laporta’s return for a second spell as the club’s president, confirmed in the March 7 election, there is cause for optimism.

Barca’s rise up the table has coincided with Koeman placing his faith in youngsters. Ronald Araujo, Oscar Mingueza, Sergino Dest, Pedri and Ilaix Moriba — without even mentioning Ansu Fati, who’s been out injured since mid-November — have all taken huge steps forward under the Dutch coach.

Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
ESPN+ viewer’s guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more

With eight games to go in the league (Atletico and Real have just seven left) and a victory in the Copa del Rey fresh in the mind, what was initially dubbed a transition year could yet end with a domestic double. However, behind improved performances on the pitch, Barca are still feeling the effects of a stormy winter under the previous regime. Lionel Messi is free to walk away in June if he doesn’t sign a new contract, gross debt has risen to almost €1.2 billion and the club desperately needs to reduce the wage bill.

The problems on and off the pitch had been festering for several years but were accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. That sewed the seeds for Josep Maria Bartomeu’s resignation last October — he is also facing allegations of misuse of funds and corruption relating to his time as president — and Laporta’s return.

During his inauguration speech, Laporta said his primary aim is to make fans happy again but warned that he won’t shy away from making big, potentially unpopular decisions to get the club back on track. That could mean player sales and wage cuts, but first of all sources tell ESPN he is conducting an internal audit to get a thorough grip on the problems he has inherited. Only then can he start shaping the future.

There is no shortage of issues that need resolving. From the most urgent to the least, here are 10 of the biggest decisions Laporta is facing.

1. Contract renewals

Several of Barca’s best players are in the final months of their contracts. The obvious one is Messi, whose deal is up on June 30. Messi told the previous board he wanted to leave last August, but the appointment of Laporta, coupled with improvements on the pitch, could see him change his mind this summer. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are lurking, but Laporta has started the charm offensive to keep him. “We love you,” he told Messi, seated in front of him at his March 17 inauguration, “I will do all I can to convince you to stay at the club.”

News broke on Sunday that Messi’s father, Jorge, had arrived in Barcelona, though no talks with Laporta have yet been scheduled; sources tell ESPN that Laporta is putting the finishing touches on a contract offer for Messi to review.

Even at 33, Messi remains as important to Barca as ever. He has scored 31 goals in 40 appearances this season, despite often playing a deeper role, and in the wake of claims that Messi’s four-year €550m deal had “ruined the club,” Laporta pointed out the Argentine is actually responsible for around a third of the club’s annual income (€855m in in 2019-20 despite the losses caused by the pandemic).

Elsewhere, the reinvigorated Ousmane Dembele is out of contract in 2022, as are Pedri and Ansu Fati, although there’s a clause for two-year extensions in each of their deals. It’s not clear if the club can execute it unilaterally, though, or if the players would need to approve it as well. Sergi Roberto and Ilaix Moriba are also out of contract in 2022, while Oscar Mingueza’s terms are up this summer but will be extended.

Before turning to the transfer market, there’s a huge amount of work to be done in-house to ensure Barca don’t lose some of their top talent for the present and the future.

2. Fixing the debt

While all the talk is of signings and finding the money to sign someone like Erling Haaland — sources insist the club are genuinely exploring how feasible it is to try this summer — the most important thing Laporta must do is restructure the club’s gross debt, which has risen to almost €1.2 billion. Talks have already begun with banks to renegotiate the short-term debt into long-term debt to give the club more time to pay it. Carles Tusquets, who acted as president between Bartomeu stepping down and Laporta taking over, said around €250m is owed to banks before June 30. On top of that, Barca’s accounts revealed they also owe €126m in transfer fees by the same date.

With all that in mind, you can see why entry into a new European Super League is tempting.

3. Reduce the wage bill

Barca had the biggest salary cap in Spain last season at €671m, but must now adhere to La Liga’s new limit of €347m if they want to remain in line with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules. They have already taken steps to meet that new limit. The cuts started last summer with the departures of Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal. Meanwhile, the first-team squad have also agreed deferrals on a percentage of their salaries for this season, although that has just kicked the problem down the road.

play

2:07

Gab Marcotti doesn’t mince his words for the lack of ownership from those involved in the European Super League.

4. European Super League

Bartomeu re-opened the Super League debate when he used his resignation speech in October to reveal that Barca were involved in plans to shake up European football. He said the club had “approved the requirements to participate in a future European Super League […] to guarantee the future financial sustainability of the club.”

Laporta was initially critical of the project last December, saying it went against the essence of the game, but his stance had softened by January. Then, this week, it was revealed that Barca were one of the 12 founding members of a European Super League. The plans have been condemned around the world, culminating in the collapse of the project as nearly every team has confirmed their withdrawal, but Barcelona have yet to formally exit.

Super League chaos as English clubs withdraw
Super League collapses: Marcotti on what happened, what’s next
Koeman slams UEFA focus on money

Regardless of timing, the Super League is finished for now and Laporta must decide how to manage the potential fallout. Bartomeu said club delegates (around 5,000 from the club’s 100,000-plus members) would have had to vote the proposals through at a general meeting, but one source suggested the club may not be obliged to take the matter to the members. Now that it’s over, Laporta’s work is all about repairing and rebuilding trust.

5. Outgoings and Griezmann

Who Barca can sign, how much they can spend and the salaries they can offer will be dictated by who they can shift first. There’s a long list of players they’re open to selling — some, they’re even pushing to sell — but finding buyers in the post-coronavirus market is difficult. In addition, players are on pre-coronavirus salaries at the club — wage reductions were temporary at the start of the pandemic and recent salary alterations have been deferrals, not reductions — and are reluctant to leave for big pay cuts. Laporta has boasted about his relationship with the game’s biggest agents, but that alone will not be enough to find new homes for some of Barca’s unwanted players.

Offers would be considered for goalkeeper Neto, defenders Junior Firpo and Samuel Umtiti, midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic, and forward Martin Braithwaite, among others, but Laporta’s biggest decision is what to do with €120m signing, Antoine Griezmann. The French forward, who has just turned 30, has blown more cold than hot since joining from Atletico in 2019. He’s occasionally found himself out of Koeman’s XI, but has found some consistency in 2021. However, with his tendency to want to take up similar positions to Messi, coupled with his standing on the transfer market, he’s considered one of the few players the club could sell to help fund a move for a younger striker.

6. Funding signings

Barca’s debt makes it easy to be dismissive when they’re linked with potential signings this summer, but sources have told ESPN that Laporta’s board are looking at how they could be innovative and make money to improve Koeman’s squad.

Selling players is key, but it’s not the only way of making cash to fund transfers. Laporta also has offers on the table for a 49 percent stake in Barca Corporate — which includes merchandising rights, the club’s franchise of academies around the world and the Barca Innovation Hub — worth around €250 million. However, it could be a case of selling tomorrow to pay for today.

7. Identifying the right players to restore club

Laporta and Koeman concur the squad still needs some work despite an upturn in performances. Defender Eric Garcia is likely to arrive from Manchester City on a free transfer this summer, sources have confirmed to ESPN, but any business beyond that will be dependent on the club’s financial position.

Barca need to decide whether they bring in right-back Emerson outright from Real Betis this summer, a player they co-own and can sign for €6-8m, while Koeman has expressed an interest in signing Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum and Lyon forward Memphis Depay, both of whom are out of contract in the summer. Depay is more likely to join given that Barca are prioritising signing a striker, but there are other targets. Haaland is the dream and the club met with his agent Mino Raiola this month but his cost is likely to prove prohibitive; Alexander Isak, among others, is also being tracked as a more affordable option up front.

Meanwhile, following the success of Pedri, Barca continue to scour the market for the finest young talent. Sources have told ESPN that Rapid Vienna’s Yusuf Demir is one player being followed. The 17-year-old, a tricky left-footed forward, has already broken into Rapid’s first team and won his first cap for Austria in a World Cup qualifier against Faroe Islands in March. Barca believe he would be available for around €15m.

play

0:40

Ale Moreno recaps Lionel Messi’s stunning second half performance in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

8. Clarifying Koeman’s future

When Bartomeu stepped down in October and the snap election was called, Koeman’s job was far from secure. Barca lost four of their first 10 league games under the Dutchman, who was appointed last August. Xavi Hernandez’s name loomed large throughout the election campaign and Mikel Arteta (Arsenal) and Julian Nagelsmann (RB Leipzig) were even linked with the role in the event that Laporta was elected.

Sources have confirmed to ESPN that members of Laporta’s team sounded out former Schalke manager and RB Leipzig director of football Ralf Rangnick over an executive role at the club — he would have liked to bring Nagelsmann with him — but Koeman’s position has significantly strengthened since December. Barca have not only won the Copa del Rey, but have surged back into a wide-open title race with a 19-game unbeaten run. Most importantly, the football being played is good and the players are happy with the coach.

Laporta used his inauguration to speech to publicly back Koeman, and ESPN can confirm the two held meetings during the March international break to begin planning for next season.

9. Updating the Camp Nou

The €850m Espai Barca (“Barça Space”) project, which included the renovation of Camp Nou, has been stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus pandemic. Laporta must decide what happens next. Does he press on with the renovation work? Does he look to build a new stadium? Sources say the renovation of the 100,000-seater stadium is the most likely option, but that poses a second question: is the work carried out quickly or over a number of years?

The former option, Laporta has said, could see Barca move to the Olympic Stadium in Montjuic, built for the 1992 Olympic Games, for two years while the work is completed. The ground is located centrally in Barcelona, about three miles (five km) from Camp Nou, but only has a capacity of 55,000. Messi made his debut there for Barca’s first team in a derby against Espanyol, who played home games there between 1997 and 2009.

10. Revamping the sporting structure

Laporta still needs to officially confirm who will be in charge of managing the club’s future on the pitch, but the lion’s share of the work has already been done. Ex-Valencia executive Mateu Alemany has been handed a general manager-type role and sources have confirmed to ESPN Laporta also wants Jordi Cruyff as sporting director. Cruyff is currently the head coach of Shenzhen FC and an agreement would need to be reached with the Chinese Super League club first if Barca are to bring him on board.

Ramon Planes, one of the few remaining players from the Bartomeu regime, is overseeing scouting and recruitment, and the former assistant to Eric Abidal is likely to be given a new contract when his current terms expire in the summer.

Below the first team, Patrick Kluivert won’t have his contract renewed and Jose Ramon Alexanko will replace him as the director of the academy.

Get the (single) digits: NFL's jersey number change can bring back classic looks for some players

The NFL owners approved a rule change on Wednesday proposed by the Kansas City Chiefs that loosens jersey number rules. Get ready for a lot more players rocking single-digit jerseys.

Currently running backs, receivers, linebackers, tight ends and defensive backs must wear uniform numbers within a certain numerical range. The change means all the cool, single-digit uniforms that only kickers, punters and QBs can wear are now allowed on more players. It also means uniform numbers will look a lot more like college, where there are no such regulations and anyone can pretty much wear any number.

According to ESPN’s Kevin Seifert, per NFL rules, if a player wants to change his number this season, he would have to buy out the existing inventory of jersey distributors. If he wants to give notice now to change his number next season, there would be no requirement to buy out inventory.

The change would allow many of the NFL’s top players go back to the looks they wore in college. If the players do want to change, here’s what some might look like:

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett

Number: 96 to 15?

Garrett, wearing No. 15 with the Aggies, was a two-time All-America selection and had 47 career sacks before being the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft. With the Browns, Garrett has 42.5 career sacks and was an All-Pro in 2020.


Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry

Number: 22 to 2?

In 2015, Henry won the Heisman Trophy and led Alabama to a national title. In his final season with the Crimson Tide, Henry rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 scores. Tennessee drafted him in the second round of the 2016 draft. Henry added another 2,000-yard rushing season in 2020, when he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year.


Los Angeles Rams DB Jalen Ramsey

Number: 20 to 8?

Ramsey started as a true freshman and won the 2013 BCS national title while at Florida State. He was an All-American in 2015 before being drafted No. 5 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016. With the Jags, he made it to the 2017 AFC Championship Game before going to the Rams. He is now the NFL’s highest-paid defensive back.


New England Patriots DB Stephon Gilmore

Number: 24 to 5?

At South Carolina, Gilmore was a two-time All-SEC player before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Gilmore moved to the Patriots in 2017 and, since then, has won a Super Bowl, won the Defensive Player of the Year award and been an All-Pro twice.


Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey

Number: 22 to 5?

At Stanford, McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ collegiate record for all-purpose yards and accounted for nearly 7,000 total yards in his college career. He also has Stanford’s single-game rushing record and the Rose Bowl record for all-purpose yards. He was a first-round pick by Carolina. With the Panthers, he had consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018 and 2019 before an ankle injury cut short his 2020 season.


Some players took to social media to discuss number changes:

Felix, Sinner Highlight Lyon Field

© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Felix Auger-Aliassime is one of six Top 20 players entered in the Lyon field.

Top 10 players Schwartzman and Berrettini are also entered 

#NextGenATP stars Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jannik Sinner will join the likes of Diego Schwartzman and Matteo Berrettini at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon, which begins on 16 May. Auger-Aliassime reached the final at the tournament’s most recent edition in 2019 (l. to Benoit Paire).

David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev have also entered the ATP 250 clay-court event that is typically held the week before Roland Garros, the clay-court Grand Slam. Frenchmen joining Monfils as home favourites in the field are Jeremy Chardy, Richard Gasquet and Ugo Humbert.

World No. 9 Schwartzman is the highest-ranked player entered, and he will attempt to add to his Argentina Open title, which he won in March. The  Argentine will make his Lyon debut and is seeking his fifth ATP Tour title.

Sinner, who captured his second ATP Tour title at the Great Ocean Road Open in February and reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Miami Open presented by Itau, broke into the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time this week.

An in-form Daniel Evans will also play. The 30-year-old Briton reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Monte-Carlo, complete with an upset of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic

More stories like this in:

Edge of the seat drama as Sarah De Nutte fights back

by Simon Daish

Suffering a shock defeat to Turkey’s Sibel Altinkaya earlier in the day (12-10, 10-12, 7-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-9), De Nutte couldn’t afford any further slip-ups. Faced with the prospect with an unthinkable group exit, De Nutte recovered from a three-game deficit to beat Greece’s Aikaterini Toliou 4-3 (6-11, 7-11, 7-11, 11-9, 11-2, 11-7, 11-9) in what could prove a vital outcome for the seventh seed!

Another player looking to put a slow start behind them, Debora Vivarelli finished her day on a positive note with her first win of Group B.

The no.5 seed from Italy, who was considered amongst the most likely to advance beyond the group stage prior to the tournament, appeared more assured in her capabilities against Tatiana Kukulkova, besting the Slovak no.22 seed by a 4-2 score-line (11-7, 11-7, 12-10, 9-11, 11-13, 13-11) to boost her chances of progression.

Vivarelli’s Italian colleague Giorgia Piccolin proved successful for the second match in a row to wrestle control of Group G: taking on the group’s highest seeded competitor in Switzerland’s Rachel Moret, 17th seed Piccolin negotiated a tricky opening on her way to a convincing five-game victory (12-10, 11-8, 9-11, 11-7, 11-4).

Two winning performances for Italian fans to celebrate, it was the same for Spanish followers of the sport with Maria Xiao and Galia Dvorak, seeded sixth and eighth, cruising past Turkey’s Ozge Yilmaz (13-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-6) and Belgium’s Nathalie Marchetti (11-7, 11-9, 11-3, 16-14) in Groups C and D. France’s Yuan Jia Nan and Prithika Pavade, Croatia’s Mateja Jeger, Serbia’s Sabina Surjan, and Katarina Strazar of Slovenia ended the day with perfect records with all five players prevailing for the second time in their respective groups.

A rising star emerging from the Russian table tennis set up, no.23 seed Vladimir Sidorenko is proving he has what it takes to compete at senior level with the 19-year-old ensuring his qualification from Group D in the men’s singles race.

Sidorenko’s second success of the day came against Moldova’s Vladislav Ursu, however, despite his 10 place seeding advantage, the Russian survived a difficult contest needing all seven games to see off Ursu (11-8, 9-11, 11-8, 6-11, 7-11, 11-6, 11-4).

Over in Group E, Hungary’s Adam Szudi also made it two wins from two on the opening day of play in Guimarães – the no.16 seed accounted for Finnish no.11 seed Benedek Olah in the evening session (11-13, 11-4, 11-7, 11-6, 3-11, 11-6) to secure his passage to the next round.

Second win of the day for Hungary’s Adam Szudi (Photo courtesy of organising committee)

There were players towards the upper end of the seedings list who earnt their first victories of the tournament, all of which could prove crucial in shaping the group stage qualification picture.

In Group A, Spain’s Alvaro Robles made up for his opening round defeat with a straight games win over the talented Ioannis Sgouropoulos of Greece (15-13, 11-6, 13-11, 11-4), while Poland’s Jakub Dyjas and Samuel Kulczycki kept their hopes alive in Groups D and H, prevailing in their respective encounters with Belarus’ Pavel Platonov (11-9, 11-8, 11-2, 11-3) and Luxembourg’s Luka Mladenovic (11-13, 11-8, 11-3, 10-12, 9-11, 11-2, 11-7). However, there was a second defeat for Romanian no.6 seed Ovidiu Ionescu, losing out to Italy’s Mihai Bobocica (7-11, 9-11, 11-9, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9, 11-6).

Draw & Results