News of all that's transpired on and off the football field
Argentina's national football association (AFA) president Claudio Tapia has said he has spoken to captain Lionel Messi about playing fewer games for La Liga side Barcelona in order to stay fresh for his country ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
Tapia's pleas have largely gone unheeded by Barca coach Ernesto Valverde, who has started Messi in 33 of the team's total 39 games this season, only leaving him out of the matchday squad in three King's Cup games.
The coach did leave Messi out of the starting line-up for the first time in the league against Espanyol on Feb. 4 but threw the Argentine on as a substitute to help salvage a 1-1 draw.
"I hope all the players arrive in the level they are at the moment. Sergio Aguero is playing outstanding right now and Lionel Messi is always at the top of his game," Tapia told Argentine network TYC Sports.
"That's vital for the directors and the coaching staff. We have spoken to Messi about taking care of himself and about playing less for Barcelona."
Tapia also said Argentina are planning to play a friendly against Catalonia in June as part of their preparations for the World Cup in Russia, where they will hope to better their runners-up finish four years ago in Brazil.
A game against Catalonia could theoretically see Messi come up against Barca team mates Sergio Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Gerard Pique among others. However, such a fixture could prove controversial in Spain after increased tensions between the central government and the region over its independence drive.
"(Argentina coach) Jorge (Sampaoli) told me it would be good for us from a football point of view and it's important for us from a financial point of view, but we haven't closed the deal yet," added Tapia.
Conte appreciates crowd support as pressure eases
A relaxed-looking Antonio Conte strode round the Stamford Bridge pitch on Monday shaking hands and congratulated his Chelsea players on their 3-0 drubbing of West Bromwich Albion.
The man, who has been written off as another of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's 'dead men walking' after successive Premier League defeats, had just led his side back into the top four Champions League places.
Now, pressure relieved a little, he could turn his attention to the FA Cup against Hull on Friday and an enticing Champions League encounter with Barcelona next week.
The Stamford Bridge crowd sang his name throughout the game, lending him the support he felt he had perhaps not received from his bosses, despite winning the Premier League title in his first season in charge.
"I have to thank the fans because they show me great support because (there are) speculations and rumour about me," Conte said.
"To feel this atmosphere around me is very important. It's very important to feel the people are appreciating my work here in Chelsea."
The champions had lost games they were expected to win at a canter against Bournemouth and Watford, and Conte said confidence was low.
"We must be satisfied to win the game to get three points. We can play better, we can play with more confidence," he said.
"After two bad defeats I think our confidence went down and we started the game a bit defeated. Then after the we scored we controlled the game."
Bottom club West Brom's profligacy in front of goal -- they missed three good chances with the score at 0-0 and 1-0 -- helped calm Chelsea's nerves on Monday.
Belgium forward Eden Hazard contributed two goals in a characteristically sharp performance and winger Victor Moses scored the other.
Conte said he was also encouraged by the gradual return to form of his strikers.
Hull's Mason forced to retire after skull fracture
Hull City's Ryan Mason has retired from soccer a year after fracturing his skull in a Premier League match against Chelsea, the midfielder said on Tuesday.
Mason, 26, was injured in a collision with Chelsea defender Gary Cahill at Stamford Bridge in January, 2017 and tried to resuming his playing career with the Championship club.
"I have worked tirelessly in order to be able to return to the pitch," Mason said on Instagram.
"Unfortunately, having taken expert medical advice I now have no option but to retire due to the risks involved given the nature of my injury," he added.
"I am and always will be eternally grateful for the incredible network of people around me who have helped me to recover from what was a life-threatening injury."
Mason, who left Tottenham Hotspur in 2016, made 16 appearances for Hull last season.
'Blame players, not Pellegrino, for Southampton's slump'
Southampton players, and not manager Mauricio Pellegrino, must take the blame for the Premier League club's dismal form, midfielder Oriol Romeu has said.
Pellegrino has come under increasing pressure as Southampton have won only one of their last 14 league games, and five overall, to drop into the relegation zone with 11 matches remaining in the campaign.
"It's not the manager's problem," Romeu told British media. "We are the ones playing, and the ones that have to change this."
With teams in the bottom-half being separated by close margins, Southampton lie four points behind 11th-placed Watford and Romeu has urged his team mates to solve their problems and climb up the table as the relegation battle heats up.
"This season we have conceded too many easy goals. Then closing the game down, we have had too many times when we have lost points in the last minutes, so we need to know how to close the games, how to play under pressure, and then we will know how to get points," Romeu added.
"It is going to be very, very tight until the end (of the season). Every point is going to be important."
Southampton take on West Bromwich Albion in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday before returning to league action against seventh-placed Burnley on Feb. 24.
Olympiakos deducted three points for derby violence
Olympiakos Piraeus have been docked three points and ordered to play two matches behind closed doors after fan violence broke out at the end of this month's 2-1 derby defeat by AEK Athens, the Super League said in a statement.
The league's disciplinary committee also fined the Greek champions 90,000 euros ($110,412.00) for the pitch invasion on Feb. 4, during which hundreds of fans fought running battles with riot police and flares were thrown onto the pitch.
The points deduction is a major blow to Olympiakos’ title ambitions. The Piraeus club, who are likely to appeal against the decision, are in third place and now have 40 points, nine points adrift of leaders PAOK Salonika after 21 games.
The players had to rush off the pitch at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium as irate Olympiakos fans broke through security and ran onto the pitch where they fought with police.
During the match a flare had also exploded at the feet of AEK players on the pitch.
The Super League punishment mirrors similar decisions taken against Panathinaikos and PAOK last term, with the authorities taking a sterner line in recent years due to state legislation passed by the government to crack down on crowd violence.