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Happy Wednesday, folks! Despite being within sight of this season's finishing line, there are still games that matter taking place across Europe and beyond, starting with today's Coppa Italia final between Inter and Fiorentina on CBS Sports Network. Away from the field, the soccer world has rallied around Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior after the disgusting racial abuse he was subjected to against Valencia over the weekend while Juventus' 10-point deduction in Serie A has changed the Italian landscape at the last minute. I am Jonathan Johnson bringing you our Golazo Starting XI newsletter this midweek.  

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📺 Footy fix

All times U.S./Eastern.

Wednesday, May 24
🇪🇸 La Liga: Real Madrid vs. Rayo Vallecano, 1:30 p.m. ➡️ ESPN+
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 SPL: Rangers vs. Hearts, 2:45 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Golazo Network
🇮🇹 Coppa Italia: Fiorentina vs. Inter, 3 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Network
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 EPL: Brighton vs. Man City, 3 p.m. ➡️ USA Network
🇺🇸 Open Cup: Pittsburgh Riverhounds vs. Columbus Crew, 7 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Golazo Network
🇺🇸 Open Cup: Birmingham Legion vs. Charlotte FC 8 p.m. ➡️ B/R Football
🇺🇸 Open Cup: Austin FC vs. Chicago Fire, 9 p.m. ➡️ B/R Football
🇺🇸 Open Cup: Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake, 10 p.m. ➡️ CBS Sports Golazo Network

Thursday, May 25
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 EPL: Man United vs. Chelsea, 3 p.m. ➡️ Peacock
🇪🇸 La Liga: Osasuna vs. Athletic, 3:30 p.m. ➡️ ESPN+
🇲🇽 Liga MX: Tigres vs. Chivas, 10 p.m. ➡️ TUDN

⚽  The Forward Line

Real Madrid rally around Vini Jr.

Valencia V Real Madrid - La Liga Santander
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Vinicius Junior will play for Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu this Wednesday for the first time since he was racially abused away at Valencia CF last Sunday. And Spanish football is scrambling to regain control of the situation. The Brazil international's red card has been rescinded and the VAR who awarded it was reportedly suspended. Los Che have been hit with a stand closure while arrests have also been made regarding an effigy hung from a bridge earlier this year as well as the Valencia abuse itself. Although it was allowed to fester for far too long without serious action being taken, it appears that Spanish soccer is, if not finally facing up to the uncomfortable truth that its image is being tarnished by racism, at least being shamed into taking some bare minimum of action.

Carlo Ancelotti has been a figure of strength throughout all of this and his exemplary public stance has not wavered since the game finished 1-0 at Mestalla last weekend. The legendary Italian tactician is seen by many of his players as a father figure and he has proved to be just that to Vini Jr. with president Florentino Perez also playing a central role in Real's swift reaction to the abuse on Monday. Expect the 22-year-old to receive even more love come Wednesday's clash with Rayo Vallecano as the soccer world stands with the South American star. In a way, Real Madrid have no choice. They want Vini at the club for a long time, and that's not going to happen if they don't back their star 100%. And while we've seen Ancelotti back his player consistently, all season long, this is really the first moment when Real itself is throwing its full institutional heft behind the player it wants to be their star for a generation. Fabrizio Romano broke down the situation.

  • Romano: "The movements of the transfer market this summer will not concern Vinicius Junior at Real Madrid, After the very tense situation around the Brazilian star after his red card against Valencia and the racist episodes against him, reports have emerged reporting that Vini could leave Real in the summer. But we understand that there's no chance at all for that: Real will soon announce the contract extension for Vinicius valid until June 2027, also the player wants to stay and fight racism in Spain together with Real Madrid."

We also have Chuck Booth providing up to the minute coverage of the continued fallout from Valencia regarding the unacceptable treatment of Vini Jr.

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🔗  Midfield Link Play

Is this how it ends for Neymar?

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Had you asked people what 2023 would look like for Neymar back in 2017 when he had just signed for Paris Saint-Germain then many would have likely told you that the fallen Brazilian superstar would have at least one Ballon d'Or title to his name by now. Even if many were dubious of him leaving Barcelona for Paris in a world record deal worth nearly $240 million, few would have suggested that a now 31-year-old Ney could be close to being considered "washed" at the top levels of soccer. Yet, here we are. Neymar has intermediaries and even international teammate Casemiro trying to find suitable landing spots for a high-earning and injury-prone former top player post-surgery in an effort to save his career in Europe.

PSG have been open to moving the Brazil international on for over a year now and the fact that they are willing to accept loan moves illustrates just how fed up the French champions are with his less-than-professional approach to his soccer career. A cursory glance at Neymar's socials speaks volumes about where the South American is at right now with more gambling promotions than outings on the field and trophies won. He may have been linked with Manchester United and Chelsea earlier this week, but it was quite telling that it quickly emerged that there was no direct contact between the two Premier League clubs and PSG for Neymar -- it was intermediaries doing their best to drum up interest where some dumb money might be found. Clearly not that dumb. 

It could be that all of Neymar's recent struggles and prolonged fall from grace is leading him towards a rather predictable end game of a lucrative move to an emerging league like a Saudi Arabia or possibly Major League Soccer given that European soccer is simply too smart to overlook the obvious problematic aspects of signing Neymar in favor of his commercial appeal. Somewhere, at some point, either Neymar or PSG will have to compromise and accept less than what they hope to extract from this situation. For the player, that may well mean kissing goodbye to UEFA Champions League soccer or Europe altogether while we are almost certainly talking financial cost for Les Parisiens who would do well to recoup even a fraction of what they paid for a superstar who is detested by their ultras.

"Neymar is currently recovering from season-ending surgery on an ankle problem which resurfaced during the World Cup in Qatar and should have been operated upon years ago," I wrote before trying to find some positives in what has been yet another overwhelmingly negative year on a personal level. "Despite his injury woes, Neymar still managed 18 goals and 13 assists across all competitions with PSG as well as two goals and one assist with Brazil at the World Cup."

And now let's get to some links:

🔗 James Benge on Bukayo Saka's awaited Arsenal contract extension until 2027.
🔗 Francesco Porzio on Juve's latest points deduction and how it impacts Serie A.
🔗 Sandra Herrera on USWNT's Catarina Macario missing the Women's World Cup.
🔗 Chuck Booth on American success at the under-20 World Cup starring Cade Cowell.
🔗 And don't miss Cowell joining Morning Footie to chat all things U-20 World Cup.  
🔗 Booth on Timmy Tillman switching to represent the USMNT days after Folarin Balogun.  
🔗 The Galaxy knocked LAFC out of the U.S. Open Cup Tuesday night, the Morning Footie crew broke it down.
🔗 Also, don't miss Giorgio Chiellini's reaction to Rique Puig's goal celebration for the Galaxy
🔗 In surprising news, Ruud van Nistelrooy is stepping down at PSV.
🔗 Don't miss the return of the NWSL Star Power Index from Sandra Herrera.  
🔗 In Soccer We Trust: Keep up with all your U-20 World Cup needs
🔗 House of Champions: So, Man City won the Premier League. Now what?
🔗 Attacking Third: Lisa and Sandra break down Gotham's remarkable rise.

💰  The Back Line

💵 Best bets

All odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook and all times U.S./Eastern. SportsLine has you covered with this weekend's best bets.

  • Coppa Italia: Fiorentina vs. Inter, Wednesday, 3 p.m. 
    💰 THE PICK: Draw (+250) -- Italian silverware is up for grabs in Rome and both sides will be keen to add to their trophy cabinets -- especially Viola who do not have the luxury of continental qualification to fall back in case of Coppa Italia or European failure as defending champions the Nerazzurri do. Fiorentina are in the UEFA Europa Conference League final while Inter are, of course, Champions League finalists and this one has the potential to go beyond 90 minutes between two teams with pedigree.
  • EPL: Man United vs. Chelsea, Thursday, 3 p.m. 
    💰 THE PICK: Draw (+340) -- Erik ten Hag's men are out to confirm European qualification while Frank Lampard's men cannot wait to see the back of this season. United have been doing their best to throw a top four finish away, but can confirm it with at least a point although Chelsea have the players to pull off a surprise result if they can get it together at Old Trafford. Expect the Red Devils to reach the UCL is fairly underwhelming fashion with a point.