Chelsea are reportedly interested in Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Bayern Munich defender David Alaba. 

Haaland and Alaba have been linked with moves, with the latter almost certain to leave Bayern when his contract expires at the end of the season. 

Chelsea spent big last year – but they are apparently eyeing the pair.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA INTERESTED IN HAALAND AND ALABA

Chelsea are interested in signing Dortmund star Haaland and Bayern defender Alaba ahead of 2021-22, according to Sky Sports.

Real Madrid have been strongly linked with the duo, while Alaba is said to be a target for several other European giants.

Thomas Tuchel has replaced Frank Lampard at the helm for Chelsea, who are eighth in the Premier League.

 

ROUND-UP

- Jesse Lingard could join West Ham. Sky Sports reports they have offered a £1.5million loan fee and to pay Lingard's wages for the rest of the season to land him on loan from Manchester United.

- Amid reports Lucas Torreira could leave Atletico Madrid, where he is on loan from Arsenal, to join Monaco, it seems that may not be the case. Fabrizio Romano reports Monaco are not negotiating for Torreira.

- Bayer Leverkusen are confident of completing a deal for Leicester City midfielder Demarai Gray, according to Sky Sports.

- Struggling for game time at Arsenal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles could make a move. The Athletic reports West Brom are looking at the 23-year-old for a potential loan deal.

Kai Havertz has all the qualities to be "world class" but was always likely to need time to settle in at Chelsea, according to Bayer Leverkusen's sporting director Simon Rolfes.  

The Blues spent a reported £72million (€80m) to bring the Germany international from Leverkusen in September, yet he has so far struggled to justify the hefty price tag.  

The attacking midfielder was one of several big-money signings during a busy close-reason recruitment drive, with compatriot Timo Werner - who arrived from RB Leipzig - also enduring a difficult start to life at Stamford Bridge. 

Havertz has managed five goals and five assists, as well as 23 chances created (1.4 per 90 minutes) and five big chances created (0.3 per 90) in 25 appearances so far in 2020-21.  

For comparison, during his final season at Leverkusen, he registered 18 goals (0.43 per 90), nine assists (0.21 per 90), 84 chances created (1.99 per 90), 20 big chances created (0.47 per 90) from 45 appearances.  

Chelsea's struggles on the pitch this term saw club legend Frank Lampard sacked and replaced by Thomas Tuchel, and Rolfes feels it is unfair to focus purely on Havertz, who he is backing to show his true abilities in the Premier League.

"It's always difficult if you change country and a little bit of a different style. That's the same if we sign players," Rolfes told Stats Perform News. 

"Some players need two days, some guys need half a year. For example, Moussa Diaby needs three-four months to adapt from France, although he was playing for PSG, to adapt to the Bundesliga.  

"You have to have in mind when you sign players, that not everybody is directly from the first day there.  

"I've followed Chelsea a little bit from a distance, but it's not only Kai or Timo Werner struggling a little bit, it's also the team – they expected more from the whole squad.  

"That's not so easy if it's not working in the team and you come in as a new player. It's much easier if the team is working and you step in your best position.  

"That's a process for Kai, to adapt to England and the Premier League. There is no doubt Kai is a fantastic player and has all the ability to play on the world-class level and although it's probably not his best six months, there is no doubt in my opinion."

Kylian Mbappe wants time to make a decision on his future as Real Madrid await a signal from the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe, 22, has been linked with a move to Madrid and his contract at PSG ends in 2022.

But will the forward end up at the Santiago Bernabeu?

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID WAIT FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid are waiting for a signal from Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to Marca.

The report says Mbappe has asked for time to decide his future.

While Madrid have been most strongly linked with a move for Mbappe, Liverpool are also reportedly interested.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Madrid and Fabrizio Romano says a new contract for midfielder Luka Modric is imminent. The Croatian midfielder's current deal expires at the end of the season.

- Dele Alli's future is set to be a constant talking point until at least the end of this transfer window. ESPN claims Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is reluctant to let the midfielder leave for PSG. Romano reports Spurs are still looking for a replacement and were working on re-signing Christian Eriksen, but Inter wanted a loan fee and the midfielder's salary paid in full.

- Lyon star Houssem Aouar was linked to Arsenal last close season, but the midfielder could head elsewhere. Gianluca Di Marzio reports Juventus are looking at the 22-year-old as an option ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

- Lucas Torreira seems set to move on from Atletico Madrid. Diario AS says Monaco are favourites to sign the midfielder, who is on loan at Atletico from Arsenal.

- Said Benrahma has made an impression at West Ham. Sky Sports reports West Ham have converted their loan for Benrahma from Brentford into a permanent move, paying £20million plus add-ons. The report says West Ham are also in talks to sign RB Leipzig forward Hwang Hee-chan.

"There is a spirit in the team but also the club – a dynamic in the last months and last years. That should lead us one day to a title, that's our big goal."

Bayer Leverkusen are one of Germany's biggest clubs, but not since the 1993 DFB-Pokal have they celebrated silverware.

Leverkusen have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1997, 1999, 2000, 20002 and 2011, while they also reached the 2002 Champions League final, succumbing to Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow.

There were also runners-up appearances in the DFB-Pokal – 20002, 2009 and 2020. But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Kai Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern Munich's domestic and European dominance.

Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform News: "It's not easy if you're playing with the best team in the world – Bayern – but we have made a step forward and quite close to the top. We want to go forward. If it happens this year, fantastic. But we want to proceed and develop the squad, and mentality."

When star Havertz left for Chelsea at the start of the season in a transfer that could rise to €100million, and Kevin Volland joined Monaco, it left a noticeable hole at BayArena, where the pair scored 30 goals across all competitions in 2019-20.

But led by prodigy Florian Wirtz and a thrilling core of players, including Moussa Diaby, Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri, Leverkusen are continuing to challenge this term.

Leverkusen are third in the Bundesliga – three points behind RB Leipzig and 10 adrift of reigning champions Bayern – while Peter Bosz's side are preparing to face Young Boys in the Europa League last 32 and Rot-Weiss Essen in the DFB-Pokal round of 16.

With Havertz having departed, Leverkusen have a better goals/game ratio (2.5) through 26 games across all competitions this season, compared to 1.8 in 2019-20. The club have also improved defensively – goals conceded/game (1.0) and expected goals against (1.0) are better than last term (1.3) and (1.4) respectively.

Collecting 32 points, Leverkusen have played the best first half of a Bundesliga season for seven years – they collected 37 points at this stage in 2013-14.

Leverkusen have also exceeded their xG value of 23.1 to almost nine goals (8.9) – only Bayern have a greater margin between goals and xG (13.9). 

"In general yes because it's a chance for other players to develop and take more responsibility in the team and on the pitch," Rolfes, who was appointed in 2018, said when asked if he was always confident following the exits of Havertz and Volland. "We had the view that there could be other players who could take a step forward. The only thing for sure is Havertz is a world-class player, a fantastic guy and player. It's very difficult to replace him, so we said, it's not our direction to find a replacement for Kai because you will never find that replacement.

"We said okay, we will give our own players the chance to grow, this strategy works out very fast. It's always a risk for sure, but we have the confidence in those players to make a step forward, and also the team. If your superstar is gone, everyone knows we have to give more.

"We try to build-up, play offensive with ball possession, straightforward – the kind of style we showed against Borussia Dortmund [2-1 on January 19] is what we want. We want to have the ball, a lot of clubs and trainers are speaking to play without the ball, in Germany it's very popular, but we want to have the ball and want players who want the ball."

The emergence of teenage sensation Wirtz, and development of Diaby, Bailey, Edmond Tapsoba and Amiri, has further highlighted Leverkusen's successful recruitment and philosophy, which has become synonymous with German clubs.

"You have to have a clear strategy," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "A clear strategy of recruitment but also your playing style. That's really important for players but also the success of a club – both are strongly connected. For your playing style, you have to sign the right players. Then you have the chance that the players adapt quicker and develop better in your system because they feel comfortable in the way of playing. That's crucial.

"We know the Bundesliga, financially solid, but we are not at the top that we can sign every player, we have to develop players. The strategy is to recruit good players for our style and develop them to the top. Some clubs in Germany are quite successful with this."

"We are focusing on that talent and try to find them," he said. "We analyse millions of data with artificial intelligence, to pre-select and be early. It's not because we know players other clubs do not know, maybe 20 years ago, but everything is transparent. But you have to find them a bit quicker, but also clear in your playing style and what can they develop with your training work, in which areas they can develop in weak points. Because we are not signing players where everything is 100 per cent, we know they have weak points, but we know we have to work with them on that."

Data and AI continue to play a huge role in football, with Rolfes adding: "It's very important and because the data will be better and better, it will become much more important in the future because you will get better results. We are working with our own team on scouting, preparing for next matches – just in our daily work."

The likes of Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos, Bernd Leno and Havertz have all made names for themselves at Leverkusen, and Rolfes continued: "We count on the young players [at Leverkusen]. We give them trust and the opportunity to play. For example, Wirtz, we give him the chance to replace Havertz and not sign another star to put in front of him. That is one thing.

"We have a very professional environment, we really take care of the guys – try to develop them, work on the pitch and prepare them for top football. We have an advantage that the media surrounding is not so big here. That's good for young players to have a familiar environment where they feel very comfortable and less stressful, then try to reach the best level on the pitch."

Wirtz is the heir apparent to Havertz, having made an immediate impact after the 17-year-old swapped Cologne for Leverkusen in 2020.

Having made his debut in May 2020, Wirtz became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern after coming on as a substitute. Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record.

Among all players with at least 50 dribbles in this season's Bundesliga, only Augsburg's Daniel Caligiuri has a better dribbles success rate (70 per cent) than Wirtz (65 per cent). 

Wirtz is one of 50 players born in 2003 or earlier to appear in Europe's top five leagues this season. Those 50 players have collected a total of 14 goal involvements – with seven of them coming from Wirtz. 

Among all players in Europe's top five leagues born in 2003 or earlier, Wirtz played the most minutes in all competitions this season (1,579) and had the most goal involvements in all comps (11 – six goals and five assists). 

"I saw him for the first time at 13. Now I have to say, he is playing Bundesliga the same way he was playing at 13, 14, 15, 16 – I followed him all the years. I always said okay, that's the player for us, the player for Leverkusen. That was not a surprise for me when he came to us and adapted very quick to our style," former Germany international Rolfes said.

"It was also one argument I said to him during the transfer. I said, 'you are a player for us, you will develop your skills and strengths much better because that's what we need in our style'. His development is fantastic."

Like Havertz, Bailey could be the next Leverkusen star to leave amid constant speculation over his future.

The 23-year-old winger, who has scored four goals and supplied five assists in the 2020-21 Bundesliga so far, has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City and Rolfes is unwilling to sell the Jamaican to just any club.

"He's played a fantastic season," Rolfes said. "He struggled a bit last season, but he is performing at a very high level. A good guy in the squad. He has a chance to score goals for sure. A fantastic technique. That's part of lives also, to sell players but we want to sell to the top eight clubs in the world, but not to other clubs. Sometimes a player will leave us. We have a contract with Bailey but we are quite relaxed."

Diaby is another prime example for Leverkusen, where the accelerating Frenchman has 561 sprints in the league this season, more than any other player. 

The former Paris Saint-Germain speedster has been involved in 15 goals in all competitions in this season (in 26 games) – with his next goal involvement the 21-year-old would already reach his value from his first season in Leverkusen (16 in 39 games). 

"When we extended the contract until 2025, that was a really nice Christmas present to extend the contracts of Diaby, Tapsoba and Wirtz," Rolfes said. "[Diaby] is a key player of our squad. His acceleration and speed is outstanding. He has developed on scoring and assisting. To use his acceleration on a top, top level. He has potential to develop further. I'm very, very happy he is part of our squad."

Meanwhile, Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be the latest success story for Leverkusen, who also completed the signing of Netherlands Under-20 international Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic on Wednesday.

After joining Manchester United's academy in 2014, the 23-year-old called time on his Old Trafford stay in January, and Rolfes said: "He is not so young but the last two years, you had the feeling there was more in the box than there was in the last two years. That's interesting for us, to sign that kind of player where you have the feeling they can reach more. We want to help him.

"Timothy is a really good guy, ambitious guy. I like this. He has the ability, the physicality, very fast, a good technique. A lot of fundamental things that are important for our playing style. Then if the mentality and ambition isn't right, then let's work on that to develop you. I'm convinced Timothy can be the next example for our club."

Real Madrid would be better off signing Erling Haaland before Kylian Mbappe, according to Jorge Valdano. 

Since making his debut for Borussia Dortmund on January 18 of last year, Haaland has scored 37 goals in as many appearances in all competitions. The only players to have found the back of the net more in the same time frame are Cristiano Ronaldo (41) and Robert Lewandowski (51). 

The Norwegian's minutes-per-goal ratio of 77 is only bettered by Luis Muriel (57.7) among players from the top five European leagues to have scored at least 20 times in all competitions since his arrival at Dortmund. 

Over the same period, Mbappe has averaged a goal every 114 minutes for Paris Saint-Germain. However, he has only been involved in four fewer goals than Haaland (42 – 37 scored, five assisted) having scored 25 and set up another 13. 

Still, it is Mbappe who is reportedly the top target for Madrid, with his PSG contract set to expire at the end of next season. 

Former Madrid player, coach and sporting director Valdano would prioritise Haaland instead, however. 

"I would sign Haaland before Mbappe. He moves in small and large spaces, he scores with great regularity," Valdano told Onda Cero. 

"Understanding that Mbappe is a star, I am very impressed with Haaland. He scores goals of all types."

Madrid will need to improve their financial situation if they are to make a run at signing Mbappe and they are expected to allow Martin Odegaard to leave for Arsenal on loan. 

Across seven LaLiga appearances under Zinedine Zidane this season, Odegaard has supplied five key passes but not registered an assist or scored himself. 

He averages 27.5 passes ending in the final third per 90 minutes, second only to Isco for Madrid this season, but ranks seventh in the Madrid squad – of players who have featured in at least three LaLiga games – in terms of passes played into the box (4.3). 

While on loan at Real Sociedad last season, per 90 minutes the playmaker averaged 2.2 chances created, 23.2 passes ending in the final third – the lower number potentially due to La Real spending less time in the opposition's final third than Madrid – and 8.5 passes played into the box. 

Valdano believes Odegaard should have been more patient, suggesting that by biding his time he would have seen more action and grown in confidence. 

"It doesn't seem to me that Odegaard played badly when he had his chance, but he lacked a degree of daring and a greater sense of risk," he said. 

"He was too close to Casemiro and lacked prominence for the final pass, which is what is expected of Odegaard. 

"But that has to do with confidence, and I think time would have given him that. He lacked patience. A Madrid player should have a greater capacity for suffering, he must not give up too soon. 

"And even less so being so young and competing for the position of two stars like [Toni] Kroos and [Luka] Modric. They are not just any two players." 

The battle to sign David Alaba continues among European giants, while Thomas Tuchel is eyeing Dayot Upamecano at Chelsea.

Alaba, 28, is set to leave Bayern Munich at the end of the season and it was reported this month the defender had agreed a deal with Real Madrid.

But it seems the race to secure the Austria international's signature remains on.

 

TOP STORY – EUROPEAN GIANTS FIGHT FOR ALABA

Real Madrid have offered Alaba €11million per year and Manchester City are prepared to give the Bayern Munich star €14m, according to AS.

The report says Manchester United, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are also battling to sign Alaba.

Alaba has won nine Bundesliga titles and two Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies with Bayern.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tuchel's appointment as Chelsea head coach was confirmed on Tuesday, and the former PSG boss is already looking to strengthen. Bild reports Tuchel wants RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano at Stamford Bridge. It comes as The Guardian reports Chelsea's interest in West Ham midfielder Declan Rice is likely to end following Frank Lampard's sacking.

- Real Madrid have work to do before the end of the season. Marca reports Luka Modric has agreed a new contract with Madrid, while Sergio Ramos and Lucas Vazquez are yet to accept offers. The report says Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Nacho Fernandez are their next priorities.

- Eric Garcia is linked with a move to Barcelona. Sport reports the next president of the Catalan giants must ratify the defender's five-year deal if the Manchester City defender is to arrive ahead of next season.

- Out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain the end of the season, Angel Di Maria's future is uncertain. L'Equipe reports the attacker, though, is on track for an extension with the Ligue 1 giants.

- Staying at PSG and the club are still pushing to sign Dele Alli on loan, according to Fabrizio Romano, who reports Tottenham are unwilling to let the midfielder go until they sign a replacement.

- Jordi Alba turns 32 in March and Barcelona are considering the left-back's successor. Mundo Deportivo reports Valencia's Jose Gaya and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso are candidates.

Luka Jovic scored just two goals in 18 months with Real Madrid but still believes his time with LaLiga's champions has made him a better player.

Madrid reportedly shelled out €60million to sign Jovic from Eintracht Frankfurt after he scored 27 goals and supplied six assists in 48 appearances for the German club in 2018-19. No Frankfurt player had scored that many since Tony Yeboah registered 30 in the 1992-93 season.

However, he struggled to establish himself as part of Zinedine Zidane's squad, finding the back of the net twice and setting up two more in 32 outings for Los Blancos.

Jovic was allowed to return to Eintracht on a six-month loan and has made an instant impact. In just 76 minutes on the pitch across three appearances, he has scored three times from just four attempts on goal.

The 23-year-old admitted his transition to Madrid was difficult and a lack of time on the pitch made things harder, but he is confident he has taken steps forwards in terms of his ability.

"I had bad luck in Madrid, including injuries, and things didn't go smoothly privately," Jovic told a news conference on Tuesday.

"Nonetheless, it was an advantage to train with the best players in their respective positions.

"I also learned a lot of tricks from them. As a result, I am more experienced and have made progress. Although I had a lot of injuries and didn't do much on the pitch, I learned a lot during that time.

"I scored two goals during my time at Real Madrid, and I already have three here.

"I think it had to do with how little time I was able to play. It's never easy in a team like Real Madrid, where the style is different and the pressure is always very high."

Jovic is yet to be named in Adi Hutter's starting line-up since returning but hopes that will soon come once he has overcome some physical issues.

"I still need some time to get to my best. At the moment I'm still working on a few muscular things, but we'll see," he said.

"I trust the coach will use me when I'm in top shape and we can find the best solution and the right moment for it together."

The Serbia international is not thinking about what the future holds for him at Madrid, claiming his sole focus is doing his utmost for Eintracht.

"I don't want to look too far into the future. I am focused on Eintracht and my form in order to be able to play regularly again soon," he said.

"I don't have to prove anything to anyone. I know I am a good player and whoever sees me will know how to value that."

For so long, Real Madrid have been linked with Kylian Mbappe but will the LaLiga champions bring the French forward to the Santiago Bernabeu?

Mbappe is reportedly open to the idea of making the move to the Spanish capital.

However, Liverpool could be ready to hijack any transfer.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Kylian Mbappe dominates the front pages of Tuesday's Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo as Real Madrid try to sign the Paris Saint-Germain star.

Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has been tipped to swap Ligue 1 holders PSG for LaLiga champions Madrid at the end of the season.

While the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic impacts Madrid, the Spanish giants are still working on a deal to prise the Frenchman to the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinicius Junior a possible makeweight.

Mundo Deportivo says Premier League champions Liverpool are ready to pounce should Madrid fail to sign Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Onda Cero reports PSG have offered Madrid captain Sergio Ramos a three-year deal worth €15million a season. Ramos is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the superstar has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus.

- Both Madrid and Barcelona are considering a shock move for Roma striker Edin Dzeko, according to Mundo Deportivo. Dzeko has had a falling out with under-fire head coach Paulo Fonseca, prompting links to Juve and Inter.

Thomas Tuchel is set to be named Frank Lampard's Chelsea replacement, with Fabrizio Romano claiming an announcement is "just a matter of time". Tuchel was sacked by PSG in December.

- The Athletic says Juve have identified Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres as a long-term replacement for veteran Giorgio Chiellini. Torres has also been linked with United, Manchester City, Barca, Madrid and Chelsea.

Tottenham have approached PSG's Angel Di Maria, who is out of contract at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe. Di Maria has history in England, having spent a difficult season playing for United in 2014-15.

- Sport 1 says Borussia Dortmund are interested in Sassuolo midfielder Manuel Locatelli. The likes of Juve and City have also emerged as suitors.

Pal Dardai had no doubts about stepping back up to coach Hertha Berlin again following his appointment on a deal that runs until the end of the 2021-22 season. 

Having played for the club between 1997 and 2012, the former Hungary international was head coach from 2015 through to 2019. 

Since then, Ante Covic, Jurgen Klinsmann and, most recently, Bruno Labbadia have been in charge, the latter fired - along with sports director Michael Preetz - following Saturday's 4-1 home loss to Werder Bremen that left Hertha down in 14th position in the Bundesliga table. 

The club have moved quickly to find a replacement, returning to a familiar face by promoting Dardai, who had been working in the academy. 

"It certainly wasn't my plan to move from the under-16s back to being first team coach, but nobody needs telling what Hertha means to me, so there was no doubt in my mind that I would be ready to help out in this situation," Dardai said.  

"I am looking forward to the challenge and working together with the team."

Dardai's former assistants Andreas Neuendorf and Admir Hamzagic have also returned to their previous roles, joining fitness coaches Henrik Kuchno and Hendrik Vieth, plus goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry, on a new-look staff. 

Hertha - who are winless in four games, scoring just once during that run - are next in action on Saturday, travelling to in-form Eintracht Frankfurt.

If Paris Saint-Germain have their way, Lionel Messi will be playing for the French giants in 2021-22.

But will he be playing alongside Kylian Mbappe in Paris?

Real Madrid target Mbappe could stay.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN, MBAPPE OUT?

Paris Saint-Germain want to sign Lionel Messi but Kylian Mbappe could remain with the Ligue 1 champions, according to reports.

Barcelona captain Messi is out of contract at season's end and has been heavily linked with PSG and Manchester City.

Le Parisien says there is no doubt who will replace Mbappe at PSG if he departs for LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though Canal + journalist Pierre Menes claims the French forward is interested in staying at Parc des Princes.

 

ROUND-UP

Madrid are considering a €45million (£39.9m) bid to re-sign Sergio Reguilon from Tottenham, according to Sport. Reguilon left the LaLiga champions at the start of the season, but Madrid have an option to buy him back within two years.

- Calciomercato says Juventus are eyeing Bayern Munich duo Corentin Tolisso and Joshua Zirkzee. Bayern are reportedly unwilling to let Zirkzee leave permanently.

- Sport 1 claims Borussia Dortmund are set to battle German rivals Bayern for Borussia Monchengladbach star Florian Neuhaus. The 23-year-old reportedly has a €40m release clause.

- RB Leipzig attacker Hwang Hee-chan could be loaned out amid links to West Ham, reports Kicker.

Inter and Lautaro Martinez remain in negotiations over a new contract, reports Calciomercato. Once tipped to join Barca, Martinez's Camp Nou dream appears to be fading due to the economic situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Inter are not prepared to meet Martinez's wage demands at the moment.

Hansi Flick can still see room for improvement from his Bayern Munich side despite brushing aside Schalke 4-0 to move seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga.

The reigning champions capitalised on RB Leipzig's shock defeat at Mainz by seeing off Schalke, the division's bottom side, at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday.

Thomas Muller scored either side of Robert Lewandowski's record-breaking goal - netting in an eighth successive away league match - before David Alaba got in on the act in the final minute.

Bayern did not have things all their own way in the first half, though, with Manuel Neuer reacting well to keep out Mark Uth's header from the best of Schalke's opportunities.

Flick is pleased his side have rediscovered their form with three wins in a row since suffering back-to-back losses earlier this month, but he acknowledged there is still more to come.

"I'm not entirely happy with what we showed," he told Sky Sport. "We scored four goals, but we should have done better, especially with the way we positioned ourselves.

"However, I am very satisfied with the nine points with have obtained from the last three games. After defeats to Holstein Kiel [in the DFB-Pokal] and Monchengladbach, it was important to find stability.

"We now have a certain cushion, but it is still important that we approach every game the way we have approached the last few games, that we perform 100 per cent. 

"We're going to take two days off now. This is important to clear your head from time to time. From Wednesday, we will then prepare intensively for Hoffenheim."

Bayern have now kept clean sheets in successive league games for the first time this term, with Neuer making three saves in total - all in the first half.

Neuer's 197th shutout is a new Bundesliga record, surpassing Bayern great Oliver Kahn, but it was bittersweet coming against his beleaguered boyhood club.

Schalke are bottom of the division with one win from 18 games but Neuer is hopeful they can avoid the drop.

"Obviously, it's difficult for them against teams like us," he said. "I think that they have to beat two or three clubs that are in the lower half of the table, one after the other.

"I wish the Schalke players luck that they can stay in the league and that they can still turn the tide. Of course, I'll keep my fingers crossed for that."

Of his own team's display, which saw Bayern register a season-high 31 shots, Neuer said: "We improved and still had one or two more scoring chances. 

"We certainly would have signed for a 4-0 win beforehand."

Meanwhile, Muller's double took him to nine goals in 18 Bundesliga games this season, already beating his tally from the entirety of 2019-20.

The forward, who scored a clinical header in each half, echoed the thoughts of Flick in saying his side were slightly flattered by the margin of the scoreline.

"We neglected some aspects of our game," Muller said. "We besieged the opposing goal in the first half, played a few chances well, but the last action was missing.

"Overall, you noticed that when we increased the pace and played our game, we were always able to get ourselves into good final positions. 

"We have won all three games this week and made a giant leap forward in the table. That is what counts."

Robert Lewandowski became the first player in Bundesliga history to score in eight successive away games and Thomas Muller scored twice as leaders Bayern Munich cruised to a 4-0 win over Schalke.

Second-place RB Leipzig suffered a shock loss to Mainz 05 on Saturday and Bayern took full advantage at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday, moving seven points clear at the top.

Schalke are bottom of the table with one win all season but they more than matched the European champions before Muller's 33rd-minute breakthrough.

Muller doubled his tally late on after Lewandowski had scored his latest record-breaking goal early in the second half, before David Alaba added further gloss at the death.

The division's leading scorer Lewandowski glanced over the crossbar from close range early on before a better chance came and went for Mark Uth, who headed straight at Manuel Neuer from five yards out.

Ralf Fahrmann was called into action with a fine double save to keep out Lewandowski's free-kick and Serge Gnabry's follow-up attempt. 

Gnabry went close again when glancing the side-netting with a header he should have put away, but Bayern were in front seven minutes later through Muller's powerful header. 

The attacking midfielder met Joshua Kimmich's back-post delivery and made no mistake in beating Fahrmann for his eighth league goal of the campaign. 

Gnabry thought he had added a quickfire second after Leroy Sane's initial effort was parried, only for the offside flag to go up against the former Schalke winger.

But the Bavarian giants did double their advantage early in the second period as Lewandowski controlled Kimmich's long ball, held off two defenders and slotted under Fahrmann.

It is the 11th successive Bundesliga game in which Lewandowski has scored against Schalke and he nearly added another, dragging wide from 18 yards 20 minutes from time.

Schalke are now without a win against Bayern in 21 league matches and badly faded in the closing stages, with Muller heading in from another Kimmich delivery and Alaba adding a fourth with a 30-yard drive that squirmed under Fahrmann.

Hertha Berlin have sacked head coach Bruno Labbadia and general manager Michael Preetz following a poor run of form.

Saturday's 4-1 home loss to fellow strugglers Werder Bremen proved to be the final game in charge for Labbadia, who was only appointed nine months ago.

Labbadia guided Hertha from 13th to 10th upon taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann last season but the Old Lady have failed to push on this term.

They have lost three of their previous four games and have won just four of their 18 league matches all season.

With the capital club only two points above the relegation play-off spot having played a game more than 16th-place Cologne, the board has now taken action.

Hertha confirmed the news on their official website on Sunday, with chairman Carsten Schmidt concerned about his side's slide down the division.

"Week in, week out, Bruno and his coaching staff have invested a lot of hard work into the team's development and we would like to thank him greatly for that," Schmidt said. 

"Ultimately, however, the return of 17 points from 18 games leaves us in a very precarious situation. 

"After much deliberation, we feel that a change of head coach can give the team fresh impetus. We will clarify his successor as head coach in the coming days."

Preetz has spent close to a quarter of a century at Hertha, including the past 12 years as part of the management staff.

Sporting director Arne Friedrich will take over Preetz's duties until the end of the campaign, when a permanent replacement will be announced.

President Werner Gegenbauer said: "Hertha have a lot to thank Michael Preetz for. During his time here, he has established Hertha as a Bundesliga club.

"But looking at the development both in the last campaign and the current one, we have decided to take a different direction for his role in the future. 

"Nevertheless, I want to express my sincerest thanks to Michael Preetz for his fine work for so many years."

Hertha were among the biggest spenders in European football in 2020, bringing in the likes of Krzysztof Piatek, Matheus Cunha and Lucas Tousart.

Piatek and Cunha have scored a combined 19 goals in 60 Bundesliga appearances since arriving in January last year, with the latter responsible for 11 of those goals.

While their big-name forwards have failed to fire, Hertha have also struggled defensively. Only bottom-two sides Mainz (38) and Schalke (44) have conceded more than their 32 goals in 2020-21.

Hertha's next permanent head coach will be their fifth in the past two years with Pal Dardai, Ante Covic, Klinsmann and now Labbadia having departed since June 2019.

Liverpool are reportedly prioritising a new deal for Virgil van Dijk over Mohamed Salah, while they could be beaten to Dayot Upamecano by Manchester United.

Salah's future has been a talking point in recent weeks, although the forward is contracted until 2023.

Van Dijk also has an agreement at Anfield until 2023, but the injured defender is apparently Liverpool's focus.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL PRIORITISE VAN DIJK DEAL OVER SALAH

Liverpool are prioritising a new contract for Van Dijk over Salah, according to Eurosport.

Van Dijk, 29, is recovering from a serious knee injury and his absence has been felt by the Premier League champions.

Salah, meanwhile, has scored 13 goals in 18 league games this season, but in an interview with AS last month the 28-year-old refused to rule out a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona.

The report also says Liverpool may look at West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, with Georginio Wijnaldum set to leave as a free agent at the end of the campaign.

ROUND-UP

- With Van Dijk and Joe Gomez injured, Liverpool have been linked with a move for RB Leipzig defender Upamecano. But The Sun reports Manchester United are poised to sign the centre-back for £38million (€42.7m).

- Amid uncertainty over his future at Barcelona, Ousmane Dembele is being looked at by numerous European giants. Sport reports Chelsea, Manchester United, Juventus and Bayern Munich are monitoring the forward's situation. Dembele is out of contract in 2022 and the Catalan giants could sell him if he does not extend his deal.

- Frank Lampard is under enormous pressure at Chelsea as the Premier League side struggle for form. The Mirror reports Chelsea could turn to Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers if they move on from Lampard.

- Yet to re-sign with Southampton with his contract expiring next year, Danny Ings is linked with a move. 90min reports Leicester City and Everton have joined the race for the forward, who has also been linked to Tottenham.

Luka Jovic continues to make an impressive impact back at Eintracht Frankfurt after scoring again for the Bundesliga club – meaning the striker has already surpassed his goals tally for Real Madrid.  

The Serbia international departed Frankfurt after a hugely productive 2018-19 season, during which he scored 27 times in all competitions.  

Madrid paid €60million to sign him, though the move has failed to work out as hoped. During his 18 months in the Spanish capital, Jovic managed just two goals in 32 appearances, albeit he started on just 11 occasions.  

However, a return to familiar territory has helped the 23-year-old - who will spend the rest of the season on loan in Germany - quickly rediscover his form. 

He scored twice in his first game back, a 3-1 triumph over Schalke, and while unable to find the net as a substitute against Freiburg, he was on the scoresheet once more on Saturday.  

On as a second-half substitute once again, Jovic rounded out the scoring for Adi Hutter's in-form side as they thrashed Arminia Bielefeld 5-1 on the road.  

It means the former Benfica player has now managed three goals from four attempts in just 76 minutes of action for Eintracht - and he is also having a big impact on one of his team-mates.

Filip Kostic provided two assists against Bielefeld and, according to Hutter, has been rejuvenated by the arrival of his countryman.

"I do think that his improvement has a lot to do with the return of Luka, because they got along really well and are friends off the pitch, as well as in the Serbia national team," Hutter told the media. 

"So, I think that played a part in it, too. But I felt that when Luka came, Filip's confidence went up a lot." 

Andre Silva was the beneficiary of Kostic's work, the Portuguese forward grabbing a first-half brace to take his tally to 14 in 18 league games, equalling a club record previously set by Theofanis Gekas. 

"We worked hard for this win and we deserved it," Silva said. "I was in the right place with the first goal, and with the second I hit the ball really well.  

"Luka is a great player. We can get even better together and help the team even more."

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