Man Utd reach a Sancho agreement of sorts and have been ‘offered’ the best left-back in La Liga…

 

SANCHO ‘FEASIBILITY’
OK, calm down. It is an ‘agreement’, but unfortunately not one that is likely to see a deal completed anytime soon.

Borussia Dortmund have said they will adopt a ‘respectful manner’ in negotiations with Manchester United after months of speculation over Sancho’s future.

Bleacher Report claims United are annoyed by the level of detail being made public throughout negotiations, which saw a deadline set, and then missed, to secure the transfer.

United are now said to be hopeful that a deal for Sancho can still be completed, with the Mirror claiming they have now entered a more ‘feasible’ stage of negotiations.

And journalist Fredrik A. N. Filtvedt has claimed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken to the 20-year-old “several times” about the proposed move to Old Trafford, and that the Norwegian boss gave a “simple message to Woodward: Fix it!”

We like angry Ole.

 

‘OFFERED’ REGUILON AN ‘OPTION’
A far simpler move for United could be for Real Madrid full-back Sergio Reguilon.

The La Liga left-back of the season is surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu, with Zinedine Zidane spoilt for choice on the left side of defence with Marcelo and Ferland Mendy his preferred options.

But Reguilon has attracted interest from a number of clubs across Europe following his superb displays for Sevilla, both in the league and Europa League.

And transfer expert Fabrizio Romano claims United have been ‘offered’ the chance to sign Reguilon, who could be available for just £18million. United consider him an ‘option’ as they look to build on the signing of Donny van de Beek.

 

FOXES IN FOR FOFANA
Leicester City are reportedly keen on teenage defender Wesley Fofana, but are unwilling to meet St Etienne’s asking price.

Fofana’s outstanding season has also led to interest from both AC Milan and Everton, but Brendan Rodgers is said to be desperate to find cover for Caglar Soyuncu and Jonny Evans.

The Foxes are willing to part with around £18million to bring the 19-year-old to the King Power Stadium, but the Ligue 1 club are holding out for £27million, reports the Daily Mail.

Leicester recently completed a deal for Timothy Castagne, signed for £22million from Atalanta, but Rodgers is thought to want to add a winger and a striker to his playing staff before the close of the transfer window.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Just the four players linked with Arsenal this morning, including a Man Utd flop and a 35-year-old centre-back…

 

MEMPHIS WALKING INTO ARSENAL?
It’s not been a bad 24 hours or so for Arsenal. After Bukayo Saka signed a new deal, the Gunners humped Norwich before Mikel Arteta made positive noises over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signing a new contract.

If Aubameyang doesn’t commit, however, then Le10 Sport reckon they have an idea of who Arsenal might sign to replace their captain. Apparently, Memphis Depay is chief among the Gunners’ targets if Aubameyang and/or Alexandre Lacazette decide they’ve had enough of this sh*t.

According to the report, no concrete move has yet been made, but Mikel Arteta is said to rate Depay’s talent and personality. Presumably he hasn’t yet sought any references from Manchester United or Wayne Rooney.

Depay is in a strong position since he is a year from the end of his contract. Lyon still hope to persuade the Dutchman to sign new terms but a return to the Premier League supposedly appeals to Depay, as would living in London.

 

GUNNERS EYE THREE MORE
Depay is just one of the names being whispered in relation to Arsenal…

The Athletic claims the Gunners have stepped up their interest in Thomas Partey but not to the point of showing any willingness to pay the Atletico Madrid midfielder’s £45million release clause. Partey fancies the move but Arsenal are said to expect a hefty discount.

Antoine Griezmann might be up for a switch this summer too. The Daily Express reckons Arsenal and Inter Milan are waiting to rescue Griezmann from his Nou Camp nightmare, but Barcelona won’t just give away a player they bought for £100million a year ago. They’re already resigned to taking a massive hit on Philippe Coutinho, while Griezmann is presumably hoping that he’ll outlast Quique Setien and a new coach – Ronald Koeman, perhaps? – might give him the time of day.

Lastly, Le10 Sport recycle another whisper coming from The Emirates. Word is, the Gunners are hoping David Luiz can have a word in Thiago Silva’s shell-like and convince the PSG defender to join them as a free agent this summer. Which would at least offer one reason for giving Luiz a new contract.

 

SERGE IN INTEREST FOR SPURS STAR
Speaking of defenders who scare the living sh*t out of their supporters, Serge Aurier could be heading out of Tottenham this summer, with Monaco said to be keen to take the right-back.

Sky Sports says Aurier could be a target for new Monaco sporting director Paul Mitchell, who used to oversee Spurs’ recruitment. Mitchell moved to Monaco earlier this month from RB Leipzig, where he enhanced his reputation as one of the most sought-after transfer gurus in the game. Which presumably he achieved by showing a little more imagination than simply returning to one of his old clubs for one of their cast-offs.

 

AND THE REST
Manchester City have made signing David Alaba a priority… Alaba wants a massive pay rise to sign a new deal at Bayern… Andreas Christensen is open to a new deal at Chelsea… A swap deal between Arsenal and Roma involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Justin Kluivert is unlikely but Mkhitaryan still appears set to complete a permanent move to the Italian capital… Ronald Koeman is again being linked with the Barcelona job… Manchester United youngster Largie Ramazani is set to join Almeria after turning down a new contract at Old Trafford… Rennes have no intention of selling Eduardo Camavinga to Real Madrid.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Man City are making headway in their defender search, while Liverpool know how much Brighton expect for one of theirs…

 

PEP EYES AKE AS CHELSEA HOVER
However Manchester City prioritise their to-do list this summer, it’s a bloody long list.

Close to the top of it, as it should have been a year ago, is the need to find a centre-back fit to partner Aymeric Laporte. City have been heavily linked with Kalidou Koulibaly – last week it was reported that the Napoli defender felt it a strong possibility that he’ll end up at the Etihad next season – but Pep Guardiola has other irons in the fire.

The Athletic reckons City have discussed a part-exchange deal with Bayern Munich that would see David Alaba bring a load of cash with him in return for Leroy Sane but apparently the Bundesliga champions feel the Austria defender is too important to lose this summer. Borussia Dortmund’s Dan-Axel Zagadou has also come under consideration, but David Ornstein suggests City are making most progress with Nathan Ake.

The Bournemouth defender will surely be up for grabs if and when the Cherries are relegated and it is claimed ‘early discussions have taken place’. Chelsea’s interest hasn’t died either, but City appear to be at the front of the queue.

 


Read: Champions League qualification: why they will, why they won’t…


 

NEW JACK CITY
The Sane issue also needs sorting as a matter of urgency. It seems increasingly likely that the Germany winger won’t sign a new deal so with exactly a year left on his contract, City will have to sell unless they want to risk losing a major asset for nothing next summer.

They’ve made it clear to Bayern that they won’t be anyone’s patsy and if The Telegraph is right, City will want top dollar to fund their splurge on a replacement. Because it seems Pep is particularly keen on Jack Grealish.

The City boss needed little encouragement to gush over Grealish prior to the Carabao Cup final – “I’m a big fan of him,” Guardiola said – and it matters not that the Aston Villa captain is a different type of player to Sane. Grealish’s ability to operate centrally as well as wide is seen as a major plus.

The prospect of a bidding war between City and Manchester United would certainly suit Villa if they tumble back into the Championship.

 


Read: Jack the lad – how much is Best-esque Grealish worth?


 

REDS AND WHITE
Coming the other way are likely to be Leeds. But Ben White probably won’t be with them.

Brighton are highly unlikely to sanction another loan move for the centre-back, who has been one of the Championship’s best performers this season. If they cannot use him, then there are plenty of clubs willing to buy him.

Liverpool are among the 22-year-old’s suitors. The Reds’ scouts have kept a very close eye on White this season and their interest hasn’t escaped Brighton’s notice. Football Insider says the Seagulls have made it known that they want £35million for the defender who has played every minute in the league for Marcelo Bielsa this term.

 

AND THE REST
Chelsea are ready to sign Angel Gomes when the youngster walks away from Manchester United upon the expiry of his contract today… Gomes also has offers from abroad, with Hamburg, Benfica and Valencia said to be leading the chase… Newcastle and Arsenal are among the Premier League clubs keen on Wolfsburg striker Wout Weghorst… Newcastle are also monitoring Thomas Robert, the 19-year-old son of Laurent Robert currently playing for Montpellier… Southampton are eyeing Arsenal forward Folarin Balogun… Chelsea targets Andre Onana and Nicolas Tagliafico have both been told they can leave Ajax.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

TURIN BIG TROUBLE, MISTER
Maybe Harry Kane won’t be stuck at Tottenham after all. The weekend saw both Man United and Real Madrid withdraw from the race to sign him but one of the stragglers could pick up that baton.

Juventus want a new striker. Gonzalo Higuain is said to be ‘stalling’ on returning to Italy amid the current global pandemic, which is quite reasonable when you consider he is caring for his cancer-stricken mother in Argentina. Mario Mandzukic ‘has weight, centimeters, thickness and charisma’ but no long-term future in Turin. Still, that’s his Tinder bio sorted.

Corriere Dello Sport therefore join the dots and suggest Kane is their new ‘priority’. He is seen as ‘perfectly in line’ with what they want: young but ‘not a boy’, authoritative but not old, a leader, ‘modern’ and able to lead the line alone.

‘The approach maneuvers have begun’ but there might be a hitch. CDS say Tottenham would demand ‘well over one hundred million euros, who knows how much’. Chuck another €130m or so in there and you can finally ‘exploit’ Daniel Levy.

 

UNITED BANK
Man United are far busier pursuing Jadon Sancho. Maybe they should throw Tahith Chong into the mix and see what happens?

Not that they need to. They have ‘agreed almost every detail of a move to Old Trafford – down to the small print’. And The Sun are kind enough to exclusively tell us.

The result of ‘months of secret talks’ is that his contract length, wage, bonuses and even ‘a huge buyout clause’ have been agreed. It seems strange that Man United would even consider negotiating that last one for what will be a club-record signing – it’s never really been a thing for British sides to do – but hell, all we need now is for them to finalise a fee with Dortmund and the deal is done.

No numbers are mentioned in the report but he will cost more than the current British record – still held by Man United themselves when they signed Paul Pogba for £89.3m in 2016.

 

REAL TO SELL SIX
After news of Barcelona’s intended spring summer clean comes a suggestion that they will not be alone Real are also rummaging through their wardrobes to find clothes they bought years ago that still have the tag on.

AS say they will again follow the ‘mantra’ of ‘sell before you can buy’. Zinedine Zidane ‘could end up offloading as many as six’ players, with Alphonse Areola, Gareth Bale, James Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez, Mariano Diaz, Alvaro Odriozola and Nacho Fernandez all named as in jeopardy.

Coming in will be right-back Achraf Hakimi of Dortmund, returning from his loan spell, and possibly Dayot Upamecano, the Leipzig centre-half also wanted by Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal.

 

AND THE REST
Paris St-Germain are preparing a new deal until 2025 for Brazil forward Neymar. It would see the 28-year-old earn 38m euros (£33m) per year… Arsenal have enquired about 29-year-old Valencia and Spain winger Rodrigo Moreno… Arsenal and Man United are weighing up a move for 22-year-old Barcelona and France forward Ousmane Dembele… Chelsea are preparing a £20m move for 23-year-old Freiburg and Germany striker Luca Waldschmidt… Chelsea and France striker Olivier Giroud, 33, has agreed personal terms with Inter Milan… Inter Milan are ready to offer Everton £25m for 20-year-old Italy forward Moise Kean.

 

The F365 Show is on hiatus until the football returns. Subscribe now ready for its glorious comeback. In the meantime, listen to the latest episode of Planet Football’s 2000s podcast, The Broken Metatarsal.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

One player ‘ticks all the right boxes to play alongside Bruno Fernandes’. Man United will struggle to get the other.


SAUL IN THE DETAILS
The gossip column rather enjoys the idea that Man United ‘secretly sent scouts’ to Anfield last month. They could have watched Atletico Madrid beat Liverpool from the comfort of their living rooms, or indeed rocked up and no-one would have batted an eyelid. But ‘spies’ had to be sent to ‘make personal checks’ on Saul Niguez. So this is obviously from The Sun.

They would have seen him play well enough: two shots, one key pass, the most touches of any Atleti player, six interceptions, seven clearances and a 65.3% passing accuracy. And they believe ‘he ticks all the right boxes to play alongside Bruno Fernandes’. Rio Ferdinand agrees.

Saul has a £132m release clause that will not be matched by Man United, who ‘would only be willing to pay around £70m’. That, funnily enough, was reported earlier this month. But they hope ‘a bumper pay increase’ from £115,000 to around £200,000 a week will prove tempting.

Atletico would understandably be ‘reluctant’ to sell the 25-year-old academy product. Considering he has more than six years left to run of an initial nine-year contract, that’s fair enough.

 

MORE VIDAL
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is clearly focusing on improving his midfield. That is the only reason Man United are still being linked to Arturo Vidal in the year 2020.

It is not good news, mind. Calciomercato claim offers from China and England, with Man United named specifically, ‘do not satisfy the midfielder’. Vidal ‘is convinced only by’ Inter Milan and wants a three-year deal. At 33. Well alright.

For Man United, it’s a blessing in disguise. Barcelona would ‘demand’ around £17.4m for Vidal and matching his current £142,000-a-week deal would be problematic. Still, it’s nice to see him linked to Old Trafford again.

 

SWAP SHOP
Speaking of Inter Milan and Barcelona, the pair could also do some salacious swapping business.

Gazzetta dello Sport say Inter might use Barca’s interest in Lautaro Martinez to engineer a move for Antoine Griezmann. The former has a release clause of €111m while the latter would be available for a similar amount. The negligible difference in value is tempting for all parties.

Griezmann has also been mentioned concerning a swap deal with Neymar, while Chelsea and Manchester City have both shown an interest in Martinez previously. The 22-year-old could have his pick of potential suitors.

 

AND THE REST
Barcelona will try to sign Sweden forward Alexander Isak, 20, from Real Sociedad if they fail to land Martinez… N’Golo Kante is part of a three-man shortlist of transfer targets in his position drawn up by Real Madrid… Arsenal and Chelsea will be offered the chance to sign Barcelona playmaker Philippe Coutinho this summer… Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero’s former side Independiente are increasing their efforts to try to bring the 31-year-old Argentine back to the club… Italy forward Lorenzo Insigne, 28, is set to extend his contract with Napoli until 2025.

 

The F365 Show is on hiatus until the football returns. Subscribe now ready for its glorious comeback. In the meantime, listen to the latest episode of Planet Football’s 2000s podcast, The Broken Metatarsal.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Mohamed Salah’s late goal against Manchester United was an important symbolic moment. There was something poignant in the way the tension lifted, in the Kop casting aside superstition to sing of lifting the title, in the iconic image of Alisson Becker sprinting the length of the pitch to celebrate, the sky a literal shade of red.

Yet within hours of the final whistle the moment itself began to fade as thoughts turned elsewhere. The title hasn’t even been won, but already a two-word phrase – one that captures a troubling aspect of the football fan’s psyche – has entered the public consciousness. Liverpool are going to win the league; what next?

A cursory Google of the words ‘Liverpool’ and ‘dynasty’ reveals that projections of a Jurgen Klopp-dominated future have appeared in columns, podcasts, and panel shows repeatedly over the last six weeks, from The Times to The Telegraph, from Martin Keown on Football Focus to Stuart Pearce on Sky Sports.

On the one hand this is perfectly understandable. It is an analyst’s job to predict future trends and there are plenty of valid reasons to discuss the topic. Fear of how a monopoly would shape our experience of the sport is one, using the language of ‘dynasty’ as shorthand for praising the rich detail in their current success another.

But perpetually looking to the future can be an alarming tendency, and certainly it is always worth pausing to reflect on why we feel the need to do so. Sometimes – and I would suggest Liverpool’s genius is one such time – to project into the future is to miss out on fully experiencing and feeling the present.

Football means everything. It’s a microcosm of the socio-politics of the age. It’s a space for escapism, for venting anger. Perhaps most of all it’s an opportunity to cling to narrative certainty in a world that so often feels messy and outside our control.

It is inherently grounding to experience life in seasonal league tables, in clear boundaries of success, failure, hope, renewal – and improvement. How comforting it feels to muse on the controlled linear growth of our club. How regulating it is to visualise tangible goals and to feel (however deluded) that we know exactly what needs to happen for our team to make progress. If only real life was so simple.

The problem with all of this is that it’s mostly an unconscious process. The nature of our fandom – our gut reactions to defeats, our obsessive reading of transfer gossip – is not a choice but an automatic reaction. And that makes us susceptible to our default, hardwired setting: to live for the future, and as a consequence to forget to luxuriate in the present.

Forever looking to build on our accomplishments has been an important evolutionary tool; the driving force behind our nomadic ancestry and our species’ rampant expansionism. It took us out of the caves and to more prosperous climates, it stopped us settling for relative comfort and gave us the urge to cultivate crops and mingle with (see: invade and slaughter) other tribes.

But in the modern world it tends to get in the way of appreciating what we’ve got and feeling alive in the current moment. Many of the great philosophers and poets (from Neitzsche to Heidegger to Camus) have sought to reassert the importance of truly being, and that presence – real, spiritually awake presence – is the essence of life itself. As the romantic poet William Wordsworth discovered after a lifetime of searching for meaning: existence is about the ascent up the mountain, not the discovery waiting for you at the top.

Or in the words of a more contemporary figure, and returning to Liverpool’s present tense: ‘I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again. So watch it. Drink it in.’

Liverpool might build a dynasty; they might not. Man City’s season is a warning against such prophesies. Klopp might stay, or he might get tired. Everything could fall apart within 12 months. It doesn’t matter. Counting up trophies, overtaking Man Utd’s 20 league titles or building a lasting empire should be the material consequence of enjoying the feeling of triumph, not the other way around. To yearn for future success is to never fully indulge in the elation of what is unfolding, week after week.

The urge to push this year’s inevitable title to one side and focus on what’s next will be strong. But, Liverpool fans, resist it. This feeling, right now – of pride, of love, of smug superiority – is the thing itself. So drink it in.

Alex Keble is on Twitter

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Game to watch – Arsenal vs Manchester City
The gossip about Freddie Ljungberg is not flattering. Sources describe him as passive and out of his depth and, given that he has no head coaching experience whatsoever, that’s hardly surprising.

Whatever faith is placed in idle, media room chit-chat is secondary, though. What matters is that Arsenal’s performances seem to confirm those suspicions. There’s been no bounce. Even the win at West Ham was discouraging in its way, such was the impotence of the football prior to the goals.

All in all, it’s hardly a good time to be facing a Manchester City side who have endured an awful lot of criticism since last weekend’s derby defeat.

What’s wrong with them? Who knows, but it’s easy to see a vague lack of tension in their play, particularly in the attacking phases which used to be so well-oiled and precise. The 4-1 thumping handed to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday corrected the trend to an extent, but they could really do with a muscular performance in the Premier League. One of those irresistible displays during which Raheem Sterling keeps wriggling into penalty-box space, perhaps, with the Silvas scheming, and Kevin De Bruyne posing questions without answers.

It feels as if there’s quite a lot at stake, even if Arsenal mightn’t be finishing in the top four and Manchester City almost certainly won’t be winning the title. A heavy loss would clearly accelerate the plans to replace Unai Emery properly – or should do at least – while a victory for City could re-inflate their ego ahead of the League Cup tie with Oxford and a very big game with Leicester next weekend.

 

Manager to watch – Manuel Pellegrini
Southampton against West Ham
is absolutely not a game to watch, but it will most likely decide Pellegrini’s future. His employers are not among the Premier League’s most reactionary, but lose here and the rest of the weekend could be spent in the relegation zone.

Let’s be fair: Pellegrini isn’t the problem at West Ham. He’s one of them, but he’s not the headline issue. Rather it’s the witlessness of the club’s ambition and the way, season after season, money is thrown at the wall in pursuit of quick advancement and the opportunity for the stakeholders to gloat on Twitter or in their tabloid columns.

The trouble for Pellegrini – and for sporting director Mario Husillos – is that £206m has been spent over the past three years. So while they’ve only been in place for two of those and the fans are more angry with those above them, the ownership can reasonably claim to have offered full support and generous funding.

And it’s very hard to argue that they’re getting value for that money, whatever ideological concerns are caveated into this discussion. Sebastien Haller has not been a success, Pablo Fornals has so far been a dreadful failure, and even last season’s positive additions – Issa Diop, Felipe Anderson – have badly regressed.

Perhaps the year’s most descriptive moment was the loss to Tottenham. Performing in that game, particularly at home, is supposed to be a West Ham staple. What was shocking, then, was just how easily they were slapped away – and not even by a team in good health, but one which had endured significant trauma following the departure of Mauricio Pochettino and was very low on confidence. The game may have finished with a respectable scoreline, but Pellegrini’s players – his under-motivated, under-invested, chaotic side – took an absolute hammering.

Maybe that illustrates the problem. If West Ham are going to continue down this road and keep pursuing these big budget players, then their head coach has to be able to shape that talent into some kind of coherent group. On the evidence of the dressing-room leaks we’ve heard, the performances we’ve witnessed and – of course – the league table, Pellegrini isn’t up to that task.

 

Team of the watch – Manchester United
United have been authors of an unflattering pattern this season. Bad results have always followed their better moments. More precisely, credibility-building wins against competitive sides have, without exception, quickly been undermined by dismal losses or insipid performances.

The opening day 4-0 over Chelsea was a prelude to a draw with Wolves, a home loss to Palace and that awful 1-1 with ten-man Southampton. The impressive victory over Leicester led them into a six-game winless run, including losses to West Ham and Newcastle. Most recently, that hugely encouraging League Cup win over Chelsea was quickly contextualised by defeat to a Bournemouth team who haven’t won since.

It’s how it has generally gone.

A win.

Lots of bluster and bullshit from the usual corners of the press.

The stats which prove something really, really, really good!

Ole’s at the wheel!

Ferguson!

20 times!

…and then the crushing reality of a 90 minutes without redeeming feature.

So what next? After a quick six points from Tottenham and Manchester City, what can they mine from a humdrum home game against Duncan Ferguson’s Everton? Wouldn’t it be typical it they lost? If, after knocking over two of the most celebrated head coaches of the modern era, Solskjaer was upended by a managerial novice.

 

Player to watch – Jan Vertonghen
A reluctant full-back at the best of times, Vertonghen probably won’t enjoy his trip to Molineux on Sunday. Jose Mourinho will ask Serge Aurier to provide most of the team’s drive from the other side of the pitch, but the more static and stable Vertonghen will still be one-to-one with Adama Traore.

A newly improved Adama Traore, too, who is still the quickest player in the division, but who now comes with a more refined final ball and a slightly steadier pulse when making decisions. Midfield will be important on Sunday, but how Vertonghen’s 32-year-old legs hold up will probably go some way to deciding this game, as will the performance of whichever midfielder is tasked with protecting him.

 

Football League game to watch – Birmingham vs West Brom
Birmingham fell to a controversial defeat at home to QPR on Wednesday night – find Bright Osayi-Samuel’s goal if you haven’t already seen it – but they’re still greatly improved under Pep Clotet.

West Brom also had an underwhelming time in midweek, needing a Charlie Austin goal to take a point from Wigan. Still, Slaven Bilic’s side are good value and, individually, are probably the most talented outside the Premier League. Matheus Pereira is incredibly entertaining to watch, Romaine Sawyers is having an outstanding season and, in full-back Nathan Ferguson, Bilic has a player other clubs should be falling over themselves to sign in the summer.

West Brom remain neck and neck with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds at the top of the table, so this Black Country derby is another crucial battle in that private war.

 

European game to watch – St Etienne vs PSG
Claude Puel was appointed by St Etienne back in early October, when they were 19th in Ligue Un having won just twice all season. His effect was immediate, winning five of his first six league games, including a derby victory over Lyon which did for Sylvinho.

The club’s away form has tailed off lately, with St Etienne suffering back-to-back defeats to Rennes and Reims, but they’re unbeaten at home, now sitting just two points off the European places, and have conceded only three times at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard since the end of September.

Puel will likely be fielding a few Premier League old boys, too. Yann M’Vila and Mathieu Debuchy should both start, while future Arsenal centre-half William Saliba is worth a watch as, too, is young defender Harold Moukoudi, who was actually drawing interest from a couple of English clubs over the summer.

Everyone enjoys watching PSG lose, or should do, so here’s hoping St Etienne do Andre Villas-Boas’s resurgent Marseille (second place, five points back) a favour in this Sunday 8pm (BT Sport) game.

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Winners

Manchester City
Another 3-0 win in Kharkiv, but this was a far more important victory than a year ago. City did not play with any great style, or at least only did so in short bursts, but what mattered is that they showed their teeth.

People like it when City lose and, back home, the defeat to Norwich is still a punchline. The schadenfreude has evidently tweaked Pep Guardiola, too, and he was irritated enough to call back to the media’s heckling of him during his first season. A little strange; it has been more than three years.

But that just underlines how important this was. To get off to a good start in the Champions League, of course, because that’s always useful, but also to change the conversation. With that in mind, this was precisely the right moment for City to effortlessly dominate a side on their own pitch and remind everyone of their power.

And what a terrific performance from Fernandinho. Yes, Guardiola can afford to be a bit experimental with his centre-backs, but don’t underestimate the challenge of occupying an unfamiliar position at this level of the game.

 

Valencia
Our early winners. despite the chaos.

 

Erling Haaland
How much fun was that to watch? Haaland had scored three hat-tricks in the Austrian Bundesliga already this season, but for most of us this was a first glimpse. He’s a spectacle, in the true, ‘who the f**k is that?’ sense? By all accounts he possesses a slightly alternative personality away from the game (Google the story about the Champions League anthem) and he seems very off-beat in front of the press. On the pitch, though, he plays like a PG monster from a child’s nightmare.

He shouldn’t be able to move like that. Does that make sense? He’s too big, he’s too square and he has that ever-so-slightly crouched posture when runs which makes it looks like he’s swimming. So: a vast body with disproportionate limbs and a big, friendly looking face. If he was chasing you, you’d definitely run away.

Soon, he’ll take up residence in the gossip columns. He’ll be seized by the have-a-go analysts and lavished by the kind of hyperbole that will make it impossible for him to surprise us ever again. For now, though, he’s just a big, goofy teenager doing amazing things at the summit of the game.

And he also looks like he could eat Roy Keane for breakfast, which his dad probably doesn’t hate.

 

Jesse Marsch
The only shame of Haaland’s hat-trick was that it overshadowed his manager’s own accomplishment. On Tuesday night, Jesse Marsch became the first American to coach a team in the Champions League. By half-time, after a staggering 45 minutes and with a 5-1 lead, he knew he was about to become the first American to win in the Champions League too.

It’s quite a story. Five years ago, Marsch was coaching at Princeton University, and even then just as an assistant. He did spend three years in charge of the New York Red Bulls and, obviously, has benefited from the club’s network and pathways, but this has still been jet-powered rise. And a challenge, too. When he was appointed by Salzburg, the home fans hung a banner behind one of the goals in protest. A couple of months later, his team have won their first seven league games of the season, a division record, and currently boast a goal-difference of +28.

Add six more goals and three Champions League to that growing CV.

 

Mats Hummels
What a performance. That Barcelona forward line obviously isn’t what it was, but Hummels was outstanding in that goalless draw and clearly the game’s best player.

Which might be of interest to Jogi Loew, who forcefully retired Hummels from international duty at the age of just 30. You suspect that it wasn’t an entirely sporting decision, because Hummels is no wallflower, but it doesn’t look like a particularly smart one, either – particularly given how poorly Germany defended in that recent lost to Holland.

It’s not just that Hummels remains an excellent player, it’s that he comprises the balance of attributes that Loew seems to need at the centre of his defence. On this evidence, none of those abilities are on the wane yet.

 

Adrian
Just for his save, because if he never makes another appearance in the Champions League, which he probably won’t, then that’s quite a memory to take away.

It was fortuitous, because when a cross is hung up to the back post like that, there’s only so much a goalkeeper can do. The coaching instruction is presumably for him to just put himself in position to hopefully be hit by the ball – the Schmeichel starfish technique, for instance, which was actually a very passive position.

But this wasn’t just that; Adrian wasn’t just hit by the ball. Dries Merten’s technique was perfect; it was a really well-struck shot and, no matter how many times you watch, it still seems unlikely that – 1) Adrian will be able to hang in the air long enough to make the save and 2) have the necessary finger strength to gain proper purchase on the ball.

Let’s not rank it. Who cares how it measures against other excellent saves? This was just brilliant, brilliant goalkeeping.

 

Losers

Tottenham
Back to where they were, then, because everything that was good about Spurs at the weekend dissipated during the flight to Greece. They played with no pace, no accuracy or control and, most concerningly, without any authority over the game even after finding themselves two goals ahead.

That’s one of the anomalies about Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino. No matter how long this group stays together and what they experience, they never seem to acquire the ability to properly protect leads. Sometimes that can be excused on account of the opposition or scenario. More often, though, it can be traced back to inexplicable errors which, really, have no justification.

As they didn’t on Wednesday, when Christian Eriksen’s cheap turnover and Jan Vertonghen’s rash challenge allowed Mathieu Valbuena to equalise from the penalty spot.

Just calling it ‘Spursy’ is irritating, because it implies that the players have no responsibility and that, ultimately, the club’s flawed DNA can always just be used as an excuse. It’s not a curse, it’s just rubbish defending and Tottenham are guilty of it far too often.

“It’s not about tactics or quality players but the level of fight. You need to match the opponent in aggressivity, excitement, motivation. That is the first demand – you need to work. It’s not only the responsibility of one person; it’s everyone’s responsibility.”

Mauricio Pochettino is correct in his diagnosis, but so what? Five years in and his team are still kicking themselves in the balls on a semi-regular basis. This is why they haven’t won anything. It’s not the absence of some elusive fortitude, it’s because – for all their very real, very substantial improvements – they remain a fundamentally sloppy football team, prone to wavering concentration and poor decisions. They can still be brilliant to watch and their fans rightly love them for that, but how precise are they? How much detail lies behind Pochettino’s approach?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions, it’s genuinely difficult to know the answers.

Let’s not lose sight of a bigger picture: it wasn’t important that Tottenham won in Greece, it was just essential that they didn’t lose. But that not withstanding, this was still a dreadful performance which will have to be their worst of the campaign if they’re to do anything of note in the Champions League this season.

 

Christian Eriksen
And that’s why nobody bought him. He’s regularly (and correctly) identified as the side’s most important component, but he still takes far too many games off to be worth the kind of fee that Daniel Levy was asking for.

It’s not intentional, Eriksen is far from lazy, he just doesn’t possess the mental appetite for the game that very best players all share. He doesn’t have the slightly sociopathic quality that instructs that sort of drive and that’s probably why, unfortunately, he’s prone to making the same mistakes so often.

Think back to the Champions League quarter-final last season and the pass he gave away in the build up to Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal. How does a player not learn from that kind of mistake? How is that, four months later, he can find himself in a similar situation, leave the ball hopelessly unprotected, and then fail to react properly when it’s stolen from him?

 

Liverpool
No, it shouldn’t have been a penalty but, yes, Liverpool still deserved to lose.

More here on a sloppy first night which has made a simple group much harder than it should have been.

 

Chelsea
There isn’t much point in doing game-by-game analysis of Frank Lampard, because we know he’s still learning and we knew that these kind of games would be a feature of this season. No, the defeat to Valencia wasn’t good, but it didn’t feature any new concerns or present problems with Chelsea that hadn’t already been diagnosed.

One thing though: get those set-pieces sorted. Rodrigo scored from one and Kevin Gameiro might have scored from another. Liverpool aren’t Tony Pulis’s Stoke City,

  

Antonio Conte in Europe
Conte can’t really do European football. Last time we saw him, his Chelsea side were being dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona at the Round of 16 stage in 2017. True, he was likely preoccupied by that redundancy-baiting sulk at the time, but his Serie A-dominating Juventus side were hardly a European power either, exiting meekly to Bayern Munich in 2013 and, more embarrassingly, in the group stage a year later.

Stranger still, Juventus went all the way to the final the very next year, in Max Allegri’s first season in charge.

So there’s a something here and, as a result, familiarity in seeing Conte’s Inter, who are currently top of Serie A, being outplayed by Slavia Prague. They salvaged a late point through a fortunate deflection, but that flattered a horribly disconnected performance which Slavia didn’t quite have the composure to punish properly.

Conte’s football could never be described as exhilarating. Actually, its greatest virtue is its repetitive nature and percussive attrition, but it’s concerning just how loose Inter were and how far away from his ideals they seem to be. It’s early in his reign, that’s only to fair, but they really were hopeless.

 

Mason Mount
The last time Francis Coquelin played at Stamford Bridge he left humiliated, having been rag-dolled by Eden Hazard. On his return, he was evidently determined to leave more of an impression.

And he did. Whether there was any malice in his first half follow-through on Mason Mount is debatable – almost certainly there wasn’t – but the effect will be that one of the stories of the season will now be placed on pause. At the time of writing it’s not clear how serious the ankle injury is (although a scan has precluded ligament damage), but it was bad enough to see Mount leave the field and, presumably, will cost him a place in the team which faces Liverpool at the weekend.

Urgh. He’s one of the reasons to watch the Premier League at the moment and who wasn’t intrigued by Mount’s first steps in European football?

 

VAR
The sentiment behind Clear & Obvious is right, because nobody wants endless interference or to see tiny parts of the game being refereed. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what makes VAR such a difficult sell. The problem with this ‘high bar’ is that incidents are occurring which should be reversed – the Callejon penalty, Marc-Andre ter Stegen leaving his line – but which invariably aren’t because of that determination not to interfere.

The more that happens, whatever the intention may be, the more antagonistic it will ultimately become.

 

Lyon
The draw with Zenit now makes it eight Champions League games without a win. Stranger still, the last time they did win in the competition was against Manchester City at the Etihad.

Lyon are obviously no longer the club that won eight straight Ligue 1 titles at the beginning of the Millennium. The nature of French football has changed and their place in the domestic and continental hierarchy has been permanently altered. But this is still a team capable of doing more than they are.

Dembele, Depay, Aouar and Tousart may not be Juninho, Benzema and Govou, but it’s not as if they’re without talent.

 

Real Madrid
Big clubs have suffered at Parc des Princes during the group stage before, but this defeat felt more instructive. Not least because it was inflicted by a Paris Saint-Germain side without Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and without the customary reliance on individual power.

They just looked like the better team and, given what PSG represent in the modern game, that’s absolutely damning. But still very fair, because Real are in a terrible muddle and this felt like an accurate portrayal of what they are.

And what is that? A head coach with a very tenuous relationship with a few of his key players. A midfield which now looks tired and imbalanced and improperly weighted with attacking players. And a forward line which, last night at least, was propped up a by a player who the club tried to sell to the Chinese Super League over the summer.

When Zinedine Zidane first resigned, he made an excellent decision. He had his European Cups and a reputation which, because of that success, was very difficult to argue with. What he identified, most likely, was that the squad he’d been managing was reaching the end of its lifespan and that whomever was in charge over the next few years would have to suffer through transition.

And, unfortunately, although turning Florentino Perez down must be difficult, Zidane has stumbled his way back into the situation he did so well to extricate himself from. Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer jumps out of a car which is heading off the edge of a cliff but somehow, inadvertently, rolls back in? Yeah, that.

 

Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

FANTASTIC FIVE
Real Madrid might outright refuse to sign free agents (except for those times they signed free agents), but Juventus most certainly do not. The Old Lady have bought the services of plenty of young men using the system, and are intent on continuing that trend.

The Daily Star ramp the Premier League panic setting up to 427 by saying that Juve want FIVE players from England when their contracts expire next summer.

With that said, only two clubs will be affected by this raid: Tottenham and Manchester United. Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld will be drafted in from north London, with David de Gea, Eric Bailly and Nemanja Matic drafted in from Old Trafford.

The quintet’s future are subject to varying degrees of uncertainty. Eriksen wanted to leave but couldn’t. Alderweireld did a while ago but now seems settled. De Gea was said to have agreed a new contract months ago but is yet to have signed anything. Bailly has been linked with moves for a while and Matic has been altogether too slow to make his way through the exit before it closes.

Each player will be free to sign a pre-contract from January. Signed for a combined £111.8m, they could all leave for nothing. Although that seems incredibly unlikely: Juve will probably get one of them with the rest sticking around.

 

LADY’S PREROGATIVE
The Daily Mail corroborate about two-fifths of the above claim. They say Juventus ‘have been alerted’ to Tottenham’s inability to get their players commit to long-term deals. Eriksen and Alderweireld are understandably appealing to them as targets.

The intermediaries of both ‘have been contacted’ over moving to Turin, but there will be intense competition. United and Real are said to be interested in Eriksen – although that has been contested elsewhere – while Inter Milan want Alderweireld.

The negotiations for the latter ‘would be concluded relatively quickly,’ and ‘the Belgian could now be enticed’ by the chance to win 100 Serie A titles before he retired.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Headline you never thought you’d read
‘Girl in a coffin holds up Lukaku cut-out as Man Utd striker parties at bizarre LA club including air hostess swinging on mini private jet’ – The Sun.

 

F***ing hell
‘HARRY MAGUIRE could be left in Leicester limbo as the Manchester giants battle to sign him,’ writes Neil Custis on the back page of The Sun.

Mediawatch did think that sounded a little too dramatic (after all, he seems quite happy in Leicester) but then we checked on Wikipedia, which tells us that ‘limbo’ is ‘a doctrine concerning the afterlife condition of those who die in original sin without being assigned to the Hell of the Damned’.

A pretty fair description of Manchester United.

As you were.

 

Rubbish bag

It’s at this juncture that Ian McGarry needed to back off. After all, the horse has just told you that nothing came out of his mouth. But no, he came back:

He probably would. But he didn’t. And that is surely the bloody point.

 

Mo Salah, Salah…
Well played, Transfer Window Podcast, mind. Just by discussing the possibility of Mo Salah joining Real Madrid for £200m next summer, they prompted this tsunami of Liverpool transfer gossip in an otherwise quiet summer…

‘Liverpool would consider selling Mo Salah to land Nicolas Pepe’ – Daily Star.

‘Real Madrid splashing £200m on Liverpool star Mo Salah could prompt this response’ – Daily Star.

‘Transfer news LIVE: £200m Salah claim, Man Utd eye £58m star, Newcastle ‘close to deal” – Daily Star.

‘Liverpool transfer news LIVE – Nicolas Pepe to ‘replace Mohamed Salah’, Sepp van den Berg linked, Simon Mignolet latest’ – Liverpool Echo.

And most ridiculously of all, an 889-word opinion piece in the Liverpool Echo, headlined ‘Nicolas Pepe in, Mohamed Salah out? The transfer that wouldn’t make sense for Liverpool’. These are clearly desperate times.

To be fair, that is the sweetest of pieces from Chris Beesley, who tries to earnestly argue that there are no clubs in world football that could possibly tempt Salah away from Liverpool.

‘While the sale of Coutinho is cited as an example of Liverpool selling to buy, the reality is that some 18 months on from the Brazilian’s defection to Barcelona, the transfer landscape has shifted considerably at Anfield.

‘The Reds are of course now not only European champions for the first time in 14 years but a team who have displayed the incredible consistency to accumulate 97 points over a Premier League season and defeat the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona en route to their victory over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid.

‘In short, the desire of manager Jurgen Klopp and owners FSG to turn Anfield into a final destination appears to be taking root.’

In short though, Liverpool are still almost 30 years away from winning the Premier League title. The idea that all Liverpool’s players would turn down approaches from all other clubs is incredibly naive. If Manchester United could not keep hold of Ronaldo after winning three consecutive Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy, then what are the chances of Liverpool keeping all their players after 30 title-less seasons? Is this all because ‘it means more’ at Liverpool?

‘While the likes of Salah and team-mate Sadio Mane, who joined Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a three-way tie for the Premier League’s Golden Boot last season will inevitably attract admiring glances and the inevitable transfer speculation from the game’s traditional powerhouses, the lustre of the Bernabeu or Camp Nou is no longer as bright as it once was.’

Is it not? We are pretty sure that 13-times European champions Real Madrid – the richest club in the world, according to Deloitte – have just signed Eden Hazard and are chasing Paul Pogba despite spending over £270m already this summer, while La Liga champions Barcelona – the second richest club in the world – have just bought the most exciting young midfielder in world football. Still, carry on…

‘Figures this month from respected football analysts, transfermarkt, value Liverpool’s squad at a billion pounds (second only in world football to Manchester City at £1.05billion) and eclipsing the likes of Barcelona (third, £958.95million) and Real Madrid (eighth, £784.28m) so it remains curious at to where Salah might go.’

Sorry, but, erm what? In attempting to explain why Liverpool can keep hold of their stars, the Liverpool Echo have seemingly stumbled on exactly the opposite.

According to Deloitte, Liverpool are the seventh richest club in world football; if their squad is ‘worth’ more than financially more powerful clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG, that makes them vulnerable rather than strong. It’s a reason why Salah might leave, not a reason why not.

Chelsea are above Real Madrid in that list from ‘respected football analysts, transfermarkt’, but that did not prevent Eden Hazard from leaving the former for the latter. And the same applies to Lucas Hernandez, Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich.

‘As well as being the poster boy for Liverpool’s considerable global fanbase, he is also an iconic figure beyond the boundaries of Egypt across the whole Arab world.

‘Not only do the Reds not need to sell Salah but it now remains highly questionable why a player of his talents would even want to go anywhere else to further his career.’

‘Highly questionable’ to Liverpool fans, yes. But to pretty much everybody else in the western world? Watch this space.

 

Call me
Mediawatch is not sure which part of this Daily Express digital story…

‘None of us have forgotten’ – Jurgen Klopp told to make Philippe Coutinho Liverpool call’

…aggravates us the most.

Is it…

a) That Jurgen Klopp has been ‘told’ by one John Aldridge.

or

b) That the ‘Philippe Coutinho Liverpool call’ he is being ‘told’ to make is not a ‘call’ at all but merely a decision not to sign him.

Still, we clicked, so we guess that makes us the idiots here.

 

Phil yer boots
Mediawatch agrees with The Sun’s Chief Sports Writer Dave Kidd that Aidy Boothroyd should pay for the ‘smart-alec decision’ he made to rest Phil Foden at the European Under-21 Championship, but quite how he gets here is another matter…

‘Foden is 19 now and has started just three Premier League matches (while winning two title medals) – so the brilliant midfielder needs more football, not less.

‘It is unlikely, but would be beneficial, if Pep Guardiola could find a club he’d trust to take Foden on loan for a season.’

Well that’s a little misleading because those three Premier League starts came in the final seven games of last season when City were chasing the title, so there is little doubt that Guardiola trusts Foden. Indeed, he trusted him to the tune of over 1000 minutes in all competitions last season, and only three other English teenagers could match that at top-flight clubs last season: Ryan Sessegnon, Jadon Sancho and Dwight McNeil.

It’s worth remembering – because people like Kidd forget – that Paul Scholes did not play any first-team football until he was two months off his 20th birthday and it really did not seem to do him any harm.

 

Recommended reading of the day
David Squires on women’s football and VAR

Richard Williams on Mino Raiola

Jack Lang on Alexis Sanchez at Copa America

 

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League