Liverpool defender Ben Davies has joined Sheffield United on a season-long loan deal.

Davies joined Jurgen Klopp's men amid a centre-back shortage at Anfield, though he has failed to make a single senior appearance since his arrival in February.

The centre-back, 26, has returned to the Championship, having previously made 136 appearances for Preston North End, where he was named Player of the Year in 2018-19.

In that standout campaign, Davies led Preston's charts for duels won and interceptions, with 255 and 54 respectively, and also ranked second in terms of successful aerial duels – two behind Andrew Hughes' 175.

"I'm really happy to be here," said Davies. "I always liked playing against Sheffield United and the atmosphere.

"Hopefully I can fit into the manager's plans well. I've missed match days and the buzz of having fans in grounds.

"That's part of the excitement of coming here and hopefully having a successful year."

The Blades were relegated from the Premier League last term with six games remaining, becoming the fourth side condemned to the drop with as many matches still to play.

No side has been relegated from the Premier League with more matches left to play – Ipswich Town (1994-95), Derby County (2007-08) and Huddersfield Town (2018-19) also went down with six games outstanding.

With Slavisa Jokanovic in charge now, United will be hoping their manager – who has previously taken both Watford and Fulham back up – can immediately restore their top-flight status.

Wales captain Gareth Bale insists he is not distracted by uncertainty over his future and expects to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season as planned.

The 31-year-old rejoined Tottenham on a season-long loan from Madrid last September after falling out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu under Zinedine Zidane.

Bale has had a mixed time of things since returning to north London, the forward having scored 10 goals and assisted three more in 25 appearances.

There had recently been talk of Bale staying on at Spurs after hitting form, but he was criticised by Jose Mourinho last week and played no part in Sunday's win at Aston Villa.

And with a year still to run on his Madrid contract, the forward believes he will be back in the Spanish capital after representing Wales at the rescheduled Euro 2020 tournament.

"It's no distraction," he said at a news conference on Tuesday previewing Wales' opening World Cup 2022 qualifier against Belgium.

"The main reason I obviously came to Spurs was I wanted to play football, I wanted to be match fit. The original plan was only to do a season.

"After the Euros, I have a year left at Real Madrid. My plan is to go back."

Wales' preparations for Wednesday's clash with Belgium, the world's number one ranked nation, have been disrupted by a number of injury withdrawals.

Having already lost Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey from their initial 31-man squad, Tottenham's Ben Davies and fellow defender Tom Lockyer pulled out on Tuesday.

It is a big blow for Rob Page as he once again takes caretaker charge of Wales in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who remains under investigation due to an allegation of assault, which he denies.

"It's not great news for us, two defenders getting injured prior to camp," Page said. "We've assessed them and they're no good. It's not ideal preparation. We’ve got to react to that and pick a team that we think will win us the game.

"I think they're quite significant injuries. It's a shame. But we have to deal with it."

Page also took charge of Wales' three fixtures in November – a friendly draw against the United States, followed by Nations League wins against the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Skipper Bale has been impressed by Page's work in the last two camps but is eager for the situation regarding Giggs to be resolved before the Euro 2020 finals.

"Pagey has done an incredible job. He's addressed the situation amazingly well and kept the consistency," Bale said.  "There are no excuses. We've had another good couple of days and we're fully focused. We're ready to go.

"I think my influence has been the same. We're just trying to keep it the same. Nothing has changed. Going into the Euros, ideally things are sorted, but we understand the situation. The FAW [Football Association of Wales] will be in charge of that, not the players."

Asked about his fitness, having been benched against Dinamo Zagreb and not used at all versus Villa three days later, Bale said: "I didn't play Sunday but I've had a couple of days' training. 

"It's been a quick turnaround. Same for every country. Everyone is in the same boat – we're ready to go.

"It's probably the most match fitness I've had. I'm feeling fresh and ready to go."

Wales have won their opening group match in just five of their 18 World Cup qualifying campaigns, although they have done so in two of the previous three.

The Dragons are unbeaten in four games against Belgium, famously beating their next opponents 3-1 in the Euro 2016 quarter-finals.

But Belgium enter the match in Leuven in great form, winning 23 of their past 24 qualifying matches since going down 1-0 to Wales in June 2015, and Bale is predicting a tough opening Group E test.

"We know Belgium is a great team and we know we're going to be the underdogs," he said. "But you don't need to be the best team to win a game.

"This is why football is so great. What we showed that night [at Euro 2016] was more heart, desire, belief. When we pull on the Welsh shirt, we believe we have more passion than anyone.

"I think beating a big nation in a qualifier gives us confidence to grow. When you enjoy winning, it breeds more."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies were "making big steps" ahead of their potential debuts for the club.

Amid an injury crisis in defence, the Premier League champions added Kabak, on loan from Schalke, and Davies at the end of the mid-season transfer window.

With Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez sidelined and Joel Matip set to miss the rest of the season, Liverpool will also be without Fabinho for Saturday's trip to Leicester City.

Kabak or Davies could debut at the King Power Stadium and Klopp said the pair were making strong progress.

"They are calm people, both Ben and Ozan, willing to learn, really great attitude," he said.

"They really throw themselves in everything that is ahead of them. What a defender should do. Making big steps, adapting to the way we play, again, that's important.

"We have still a clear way to defend which is important because if both of them would be on the pitch, then there are still nine players who are used to what we did before. So even the two players would do something differently that would lead to a strange situation. So, yeah, it's all good.

"It's all good so far and now we have to make this our set. We have to change again because of Fab and now we will see, which solution we will take."

The clash with Leicester City will mark Klopp's 300th game in charge of Liverpool, who are fourth in the table.

Liverpool have won on their past three Premier League visits to Leicester, who this season have already lost five league home games – one more than in the whole of the last campaign.

Klopp's men will be seeking to avoid a third successive league defeat this month after losing at home to Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City. They last lost three games in a row in the Premier League in November 2014, when current Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers was in charge of the Reds.

Jurgen Klopp will not throw in new signings Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak for Liverpool debuts alongside one another against Manchester City on Sunday.

Davies and Kabak completed moves to Anfield from Preston and Schalke respectively on transfer deadline day, as Klopp moved to address an injury crisis in the heart of defence.

Joel Matip will miss the rest of the season with ankle ligament damage, joining long-term absentees Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez on the sidelines.

Davies was an unused substitute as a Liverpool team with Nat Phillips and captain Jordan Henderson at centre-back went down to a 1-0 midweek defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion - a result that leaves the champions seven points behind Premier League leaders City having played a game more.

Klopp conceded it will be helpful when he feels able to play the likes of Henderson and Fabinho in their favoured midfield roles but he will not make those switches at the expense of his team's overall stability.

"Now we have different options and that's good, the best news we could get," he said.

"Now we have to make sure the new boys get all the information they need as quick as possible.

"In another position, you can say 'play, try, we will see' but in defence the things we do are really clear.

"It's about holding the line, it's about dropping at the right moment - there are a lot of things that all teams do differently. We will see how quick we can do that."

Asked whether he would like to play two new central defenders at the same time, Klopp shook his head and replied: "No, if I don't have to, no."

City are on a winning run of 13 matches in all competitions and Klopp knows his men have to be on the money at the back, whoever is selected.

"Obviously City at the moment are in a slightly different moment than we are. We should not forget that," he said.

"One thing is clear, if you do not defend on your highest level against City you cannot even think of getting anything out of the game.

"But then there are the other moments where you have to be brave and that's what we try to be as well.

"There are other moments where you have to control, not the game but the situation, and we'll try that as well."

City last won at Anfield in 2003 and Guardiola has drawn one and lost five of his encounters against Klopp on Merseyside.

For plenty of those games, the visitors have been confronted by a febrile atmosphere - something that obviously will not be a factor this time around.

"Our situation is not talking about supporters in or out because we all know how much they help," Klopp said.

"We knew it always. For a long time we could ignore that, at least results wise. Now not in the last few weeks.

"We have to make sure that atmosphere, good or bad, doesn't make a difference.

"It's a football game. They don't have an atmosphere, we don't have an atmosphere. Let's go for it with all we have."

Will he stay or will he go?

That is the question regarding Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, who is a reported target for Real Madrid and Liverpool.

If Mbappe opts to call time on his PSG stall, the French champions are still aiming high.

 

TOP STORY – LIFE WITHOUT MBAPPE IN PARIS?

Paris Saint-Germain are more determined than ever to give head coach Mauricio Pochettino a dream forward line amid doubts over Kylian Mabppe's future, according to Le10 Sport.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid and Premier League holders Liverpool.

If Mbappe does not remain in Paris, PSG will step up their pursuit of Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi.

 

ROUND-UP

Massimiliano Allegri has turned down Roma as he waits for Madrid, repots Todofichajes. Zinedine Zidane is under mounting pressure in the Spanish capital, while it is a similar situation for Roma boss Paulo Fonseca.

Manchester City are willing to sign a striker and Messi this offseason, according to The Athletic. With City yet to offer Sergio Aguero a new deal, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Inter pair Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku are reported targets as Pep Guardiola's side also eye soon-to-be free agent Messi.

- Fabrizio Romano says Liverpool have agreed to sign Ben Davies from Preston North End ahead of Monday's deadline day. Jurgen Klopp has been eyeing a defender due to the club's injury crisis.

Dele Alli's proposed switch from Tottenham to PSG is not progressing, reports Romano. Struggling for game time at Spurs, Alli has been keen for a loan move to PSG, but Tottenham are unwilling to sanction a departure as Inter block Christian Eriksen's return.

Leicester City are the frontrunners to sign Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles, claims The Mirror.

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