After the very wholesome and, well, very Arsenal scenes at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday, a little bit of the other side of football with fans landed in Manchester for the resumption of a simmering and bitter rivalry.

Running scraps between Manchester United and Leeds United supporters in the city centre, including one clobbering another with a bin. The Leeds contingent not so politely enquiring over the identity of new signing Raphael Varane as he was paraded to the Old Trafford faithful, who then burst into a hearty rendition of, "We all hate Leeds scum!" inside 20 seconds.

Nature is healing.

Of course, novelty becoming normality with all its warts is something everyone can broadly get behind after the past 18 months. Ideally without WWE re-enactments using waste disposal facilities, but you play the cards you're dealt.

Another familiar narrative as the masses returned to the Stretford End was Paul Pogba's future in Manchester and how uneasily it sat. Once again, the France midfielder was reported to be keen on a move away from the club he re-joined for £89.3million in 2016 – a fee only overtaken as a British record by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City earlier this month. Once again, he appears to be going nowhere.

Lionel Messi's arrival means there is no longer enough elasticity in the Paris Saint-Germain books to bring Pogba to the French capital, leaving him to make the best of a curious status within Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad.

Jadon Sancho is the new headline signing and Bruno Fernandes' bottomless well of goals and assists has led some to idly question whether Pogba would be missed that much.

But, aside from both being attacking midfielders, they are elite players of different and contrasting qualities. When those talents mesh as they did in United's riotous 5-1 win over their foes from the other side of the Pennines, they suggest the most obvious route to quenching a four-season trophy drought.

The difference in approach was highlighted by two first-half one on ones, with such openings always on the agenda due to a porous Leeds midfield that badly missed Kalvin Phillips at its base.

In the 27th minute, after Mason Greenwood snaffled a loose ball in the centre circle, Pogba was sent clear. His stepover worked an angle to beat countryman IIlan Meslier in the Leeds goal and he clipped a left-footed finish just wide.

Had it gone in, it would have been a beautiful finish, every bit as attractive as the throughball with which Pogba released Fernandes three minutes later. The Portugal star mashed a shot towards goal that bounced off Meslier and spun in. Fernandes lacks Pogba's aesthetics but he gets things done and relentlessly so.

Luke Ayling's blistering 48th-minute equaliser gave us a more agreeable instance of top bins and could have been a pivot point in the contest. Well, it was. Just not the one you might have expected.

For once, there seemed to be little danger when Pogba collected possession inside the United half in the 52nd minute, but the pass with which he brought Ayling back down to earth and sent Greenwood scampering away to finish via the post was a piece of implausible perfection.

Fernandes made it 3-1, clumping a shot into a crowded goalmouth that Ayling cleared from behind the line. Not pretty, but no matter.

Pogba now had a hat-trick of assists and his partner in crime claimed the matchball as he thundered home Victor Lindelof's raking pass. Beauty but of a more visceral kind than Pogba typically deals in.

Twenty minutes on from Ayling's leveller, Fred made it 5-1 and Pogba had gorged himself to surpass his Premier League assists tally of three from 2020-21 in a single lunchtime.

He departed to a standing ovation as the new hero Sancho entered the fray alongside Anthony Martial. Once the England winger is up to full fitness and Marcus Rashford returns from shoulder surgery, it will be fascinating to see what configuration Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opts for.

Granting Pogba the roving role from the left flank that allowed him to decimate Leeds would leave a couple of high-profile wide attackers disgruntled most weeks.

There could be changes in formation, with Saturday's 4-2-3-1 wheeled out as much by necessity as design. But Pogba's six passes to Fernandes were more than he made to any United team-mate and look what that led to.

A deeper role for the Frenchman when the other attackers return would be the easy call, but why sever an alliance that looked utterly unplayable here? The start of Fernandes' story at Old Trafford once looked like it might be the end of Pogba's. They should be allowed the chance to script something far more compelling in tandem.

Bruno Fernandes scored his first Manchester United hat-trick and Paul Pogba produced four assists as they made a superb start to their Premier League challenge with a 5-1 win over Leeds United.

With Old Trafford buoyed by the signing and introduction of Raphael Varane on the pitch before kick-off, the returning fans were treated to an excellent attacking display.

Fernandes and Pogba – aided by a generous Leeds defence – were to the fore, the former benefiting from Pogba's creative talents in opening the scoring on the half-hour mark.

Pogba laid on two further assists for Mason Greenwood and Fernandes to put United in command in the second half after Luke Ayling's screamer had briefly levelled matters.

And, after Fernandes completed his treble, the former Juventus man teed up Fred to complete the rout in the 68th minute.

Leeds' defending throughout the first half was distinctly haphazard and Illan Meslier had to be alert to turn the ball behind after Pascal Struijk's backpass deflected off Greenwood.

Greenwood was involved again as he slid Pogba through on goal, only for the France midfielder to waste a golden opportunity and fire wide of the near post.

Yet Leeds refused to heed those warnings and Pogba made amends with a superb pass to tee up Fernandes after Meslier punted the ball straight to Scott McTominay, the Portuguese squeaking the ball under the goalkeeper's legs.

For all United's dominance in the first half, they were pegged back three minutes into the second when Ayling left David de Gea with no chance with a vicious right-footed drive from just outside the area.

But Old Trafford was in a stunned silence for just over three minutes as Pogba responded in equally remarkable fashion, his pinpoint long-range pass met by Greenwood, who raced down the left flank and restored the hosts' lead with a strike across the face of goal that went in off the post.

Solskjaer's men then gave themselves breathing room as Pogba made it a hat-trick of assists by finding Fernandes, whose neat turn sent Junior Firpo to the turf and was followed by a composed finish that Ayling could not prevent from crossing the line.

Fernandes' third breached the Leeds goal much more emphatically, Victor Lindelof this time the supplier as United's number 18 latched onto his ball over the top and beat Meslier with an unstoppable volley.

A hugely enjoyable day for the United fans was rounded off by Fred's simple close-range finish and Jadon Sancho coming off the bench to make his debut, Pogba leaving the pitch to a standing ovation after a display that illustrated why signing him to a new contract should be top of the club's to-do list.

Brazil boss Tite has included uncapped pair Claudinho and Raphinha in a 25-man squad for a trio of World Cup qualifiers in September.

The Selecao are quickly back in action after the disappointment of missing out on Copa America glory on home soil, with games against Chile, Argentina - who defeated Brazil in the final - and Peru coming up next month.

Claudinho receives his opportunity after helping his country secure Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020, including starting in the 2-1 final win over Spain.

The midfielder has made a move to Europe to continue his club career, his signing announced by Zenit not long after the Olympics tournament had concluded.

Raphinha, meanwhile, gets an opportunity after impressing in his debut season with Leeds United. The winger - signed from Rennes - scored six goals in 30 Premier League appearances under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa.

His tally of nine assists was the most by any player for Leeds, who finished ninth on their return to the top tier, while also completing 45.53 per cent of his 123 attempted dribbles.

"We've been following Raphinha for some time now, since he moved to the Premier League," Tite explained at a media conference.

"We look for information in every way, and he has an accentuated dribbling technique. He has scored a number of important goals too, a decisive player."

Tite has also selected Lucas Verissimo as well as the evergreen Dani Alves, Brazil's 38-year-old captain at the Olympics.

However, Atletico Madrid left-back Renan Lodi, who started the 1-0 Copa America final loss to Argentina, is a surprising omission from the list, while there is also no place for Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz.

"When we say competition at a high level, this is it," said Tite of the tough selection calls he had to make. "They will continue to be followed.

"It's for Douglas to return to his best level, play a lot for his club and come back. Renan Lodi has not been participating in the games, but in training.

"I talked to him, because it's not because of an individual mistake that he doesn't come back, he doesn't have that here. He's a great player."

Brazil have a rematch with rivals Argentina on September 5, two days after a tricky trip to Chile. They round out the run of qualifying fixtures for Qatar 2022 by hosting Peru on September 10.


Brazil squad: Alisson (Liverpool), Ederson (Manchester City), Weverton (Palmeiras); Marquinhos (Paris Saint-Germain), Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Eder Militao (Real Madrid), Lucas Veríssimo (Benfica), Alex Sandro (Juventus), Danilo (Juventus), Daniel Alves (Sao Paulo), Guilherme Arana (Atletico Mineiro); Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fred (Manchester United), Lucas Paqueta (Lyon), Claudinho (Zenit), Bruno Guimaraes (Lyon), Everton Ribeiro (Flamengo), Fabinho (Liverpool); Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Richarlison (Everton), Matheus Cunha (Hertha Berlin), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Gabriel Barbosa Flamengo), Raphinha (Leeds United).

Jadon Sancho will be involved for Manchester United against Leeds United on Saturday but Raphael Varane is not available, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has said.

England winger Sancho, a £73.9million (€85m) signing from Borussia Dortmund, has been training this week after struggling with illness following his holiday.

Red Devils manager Solskjaer confirmed Sancho is ready to make his competitive debut against Marcelo Bielsa's men at Old Trafford.

"Jadon is going to be involved," Solskjaer told reporters on Friday. "Unfortunately, he was ill after his holiday, so we lost out on a few days of training, but he's gelled really well with the group. He's going to be involved."

However, centre-back Varane will miss the game as his move from Real Madrid has yet to be finalised.

The France international has been isolating after arriving in England, as per coronavirus protocols, but there are some outstanding matters to resolve before he can be registered as a United player.

"He's not trained with us," Solskjaer said. "Things take time. Unfortunately, with the isolation, the delay, it's not 100 per cent done yet. I can't say he will be involved, I can probably say he won't be.

"It always happens, it's little things. The big hold-up was isolation, quarantine. It'll be done soon."

There have been questions over the involvement of Anthony Martial, who has been linked with a possible move away from United in the transfer window.

The France international missed the final two months of last season with a knee injury but played 45 minutes of the 4-0 friendly win over Everton.

Solskjaer insisted he has no plans to allow the forward to leave despite the reported interest from elsewhere.

"I wouldn't be surprised if other teams targeted Anthony because he's a very good player," he said. "I've got no plans whatsoever for him to play against us.

"He's come back strong, hungry, with a determination to prove his fitness and quality, because last season was a disappointing one for him. He's up for the challenge. He's a Man United player and we're happy to have him. He's proven doubters wrong so many times."

Solskjaer added that there is little update on the future of Paul Pogba, who is in the final year of his contract at United.

"It's been spoken and written about so often," he added. "Every discussion I've had with Paul was a positive one, he knows what we want and hopefully he keeps on in the background and they make decisions. It'll always be like with this with Paul; he's a media magnet."

Here we go again. The Premier League race begins once more, despite some players barely having the chance to unpack their suitcases after short-lived pre-season breaks.

Last time out, Manchester City turned a potentially intriguing title battle into a procession. They had plenty of tests along the way, just mostly of the PCR variety as the teams pushed on amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

Thankfully, fans will be in grounds to watch from the start this time around, while some familiar faces have returned. Romelu Lukaku is back. Patrick Vieira – a three-time Premier League winner in his playing days – and Rafa Benitez, a former red now aligned to the Blues, are on the touchline. Norwich City and Watford, meanwhile, have negotiated the Championship to secure a quick reunion.

Still, there is always a freshness to every campaign, aided by summer signings and, this time, the presence of a newcomer.

Brentford provide a new, exciting chapter to the Premier League story, though it is perhaps expecting too much to hope for riveting plot twists when it comes to the likely contenders to be crowned champions.

THE THOROUGHBREDS READY TO RUN AGAIN

When Manchester rivals City and United drew 0-0 in an instantly forgettable derby in December 2020, one that left those who had watched on wondering what else they should have done with their time instead, Pep Guardiola's side were sitting outside the top seven in the table. It was actually an upturn in their position – they had languished down in 11th during the previous month.

By the time they hosted their neighbours in the return fixture in March 2021, however, City had won 21 in a row in all competitions and held a double-digit lead at the head of the league. The stunning run did come to an end that day, but it was just a case of delaying the inevitable.

The rich have got richer in pursuit of a third title in four years, in terms of talent at least. Spending £100million to get Jack Grealish has add further creativity, as if they really needed it. The squad could still be bolstered by Harry Kane, too. If the Tottenham striker moves north, the deck will be stacked even more in City's favour.

Yet there are reasons for the others who finished in the top four to be optimistic. Chelsea denied Guardiola in the Champions League final, giving a silver-lined finish to the promising early form under Thomas Tuchel. They have strengthened in attack, Lukaku back at the Bridge to sort out some unfinished business. A glaring gap in the squad (sorry, Timo Werner) has been filled.

Adding goals will be a key factor for the Blues, as they managed only 38 in all competitions following the appointment of the German coach. To put that number into context, United and City managed 58 and 70 across the same period. Even Tottenham topped them with 49.

OLE JOCKEYS FOR SILVERWARE

United finished second but will hope Jadon Sancho can lift them even higher, albeit the arrival of Raphael Varane could be even more crucial, considering the Red Devils conceded 28 goals at home last season – their most in a single campaign since 1962-63. Tighten up and it could well be their year, but they do not want to continue the habit of giving opposing teams head-starts again in games.

Those two marquee signings, which came in the transfer window following unrest among the fanbase aimed at the club's ownership, have rightly raised expectations. Now, for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there is a need to secure something tangible, a piece of silverware to show he can clear the final hurdle.

The caretaker appointed to lift the gloom after Jose Mourinho is just three Premier League games short of a century in charge – if United triumph in all of them on the way to that Solskjaer milestone, the Norwegian will have the same winning percentage at the magical 100 mark as Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp.

As for Klopp and Liverpool, there is a degree of uncertainty. The outstanding winners in 2019-20 required a fast finish – the Reds' run of five consecutive league wins in May was more than they managed in 12 games in February, March and April combined – just to squeeze into the top four. They began to rebuild fortress Anfield, knocked down during a record-breaking losing run.

Injuries did decimate the squad during a tepid title defence, but Virgil van Dijk is now fit again and, just in case, Ibrahima Konate has come in to provide added depth at the heart of the defence. If Sadio Mane can rediscover his scoring form and ease the burden on Mohamed Salah, the ingredients are all there to mount a sustained challenge again.

THE FADING FORCES DESPERATE TO FIND FORM

In times of cutbacks, have the 'Big Six' been reduced to a 'Big Four'? Arsenal and Tottenham still retained enough pulling power to be included as part of the failed European Super League plan, but neither have ended up above Leicester City in the final league table in the past two years.

The Foxes came up short in their Champions League quest again, though the frustration at a second successive fifth-place finish was eased somewhat by lifting the FA Cup. The underappreciated Brendan Rodgers has never lacked belief, and Leicester have backed their boss in the transfer market with the signings of Patson Daka and Boubakary Soumare.

Spurs' transfer business is now being carried out by new managing director Fabio Paratici, while Nuno Espirito Santo was eventually selected to take over as head coach, despite at one stage appearing to be off the lengthy list of candidates. Both are carrying out their duties amid uncertainty over Kane, the competition's disgruntled Golden Boot winner determined to get a move.

Tottenham will be the Premier League's first participants in the Europa Conference League, which could either offer welcome relief from league issues or be a midweek nuisance. Come on, though, who doesn't want to go to Latvia in winter? Arsenal may well wish they had such concerns - they will not be playing in any European competition for the first time in 26 years.

Ben White has come in at great expense as the Gunners have put a focus on getting younger. Really, they just need to get better. To that extent, getting more out of Thomas Partey, not to mention Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who managed just the 10 league goals in 29 games, would help.

Mikel Arteta has much work to do to make sure the gap to the head of the field does not grow wider.

THE OUTSIDERS HOPING TO EMERGE

West Ham finished above the north London duo last time thanks in no small part to the impact made by Jesse Lingard during his loan spell.

The attacking midfielder scored nine goals and four assists in 16 games to propel himself back into England contention, even it remains to be seen if it was enough to rekindle his Manchester United career.

Without Lingard, David Moyes will have to conjure up more magic from within his squad as they also tackle the added workload of playing in the Europa League. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is unlikely to have the same kind of impact during his temporary stint from Paris Saint-Germain, leaving cravings for 'J-Lingz'.

Leeds United will hope to build on a positive first year back in the top flight, steered diligently by the boss on a bucket, Marcelo Bielsa, while Aston Villa have wisely elected not to replace the talismanic Grealish with just one player, instead bringing in several to try and fill the void.

There is still time for teams to strengthen, particularly as the leading clubs look to cut away some of the unnecessary fat in their bloated squad lists. Lingard demonstrated what a difference the right signing can make to a team.

However, another underdog story to match the wonderful tale of Claudio Ranieri's Leicester appears impossible. Instead, after two consecutive seasons with runaway champions, it would just be nice if the 2021-22 Premier League Stakes at least provided a little more drama by the time we enter into the closing stages.

The Premier League is back! 

Arsenal travel to newly promoted Brentford in the opening game of the 2021-22 campaign on Friday.

Champions Manchester City face Tottenham – and possibly top transfer target Harry Kane – on Sunday, with Liverpool in action against returning Norwich City on Saturday, after Manchester United have hosted Leeds United.

So, ahead of the new season, why not give this Opta-powered quiz a go? You can find the answers at the bottom of the page...

1. Arsenal begin against Brentford – it is the fourth time the Gunners have been involved in the opening game of a Premier League campaign, winning the other three in 2008-09, 2017-18 and 2020-21, but who did they play against in those matches? 

2. Over the last 10 Premier League matches of 2020-21, Leeds claimed 23 points, winning seven games and drawing twice. Can you name the only  club to collect more points across the same time span?

3. Liverpool are unbeaten in their five Premier League openers under Jurgen Klopp, but how many goals have the Reds scored across these matches?

4. Aston Villa begin life without Jack Grealish with a trip to Watford. Emiliano Buendia will wear the number 10 shirt, but how many goals did he assist for Norwich in the Championship last season?

5. Sunday's meeting between Spurs and City brings up Nuno Espirito Santo's first competitive game as Tottenham boss. Who was the club's last manager to lose his opening fixture in charge?

 

Answers:

1. West Brom, Leicester City, Fulham
2. Liverpool (26)
3. 19 
4. 16
5. Andre Villas-Boas 

Marcelo Bielsa says his Leeds United future "has been resolved" ahead of Saturday's opening Premier League match against Manchester United.

The 66-year-old has spent the past three years at Elland Road and guided Leeds to a ninth-placed finish in the top flight last season after earning promotion the previous campaign.

Bielsa signed a one-year contract extension on the eve of the 2020-21 campaign and now looks set to stay on for a further 12 months.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of this weekend's trip to Old Trafford, Bielsa said: "The contract situation is one that is already resolved. The subject is resolved."

Pressed on how long the contract will run, Bielsa, through a translator, replied: "One year is habitual."

Leeds spent big last year ahead of their first season back in the Premier League and have brought in Junior Firpo and Kristoffer Klaesson during the current window, while also turning Jack Harrison's loan move from Manchester City into a permanent deal.

Bielsa is grateful for the support shown in him by the Yorkshire club, who have also made improvements to their training ground and Elland Road.

"From my point of view this is an extraordinary club," he said. "It's not often you have a club that designates so much volume of investment to the improvement of the training facilities.

"Leeds have made a significant contribution economically to provide the tools for a manager to prepare to be the ideal ones."

Bielsa also confirmed defender Diego Llorente will miss the Premier League opener with the Red Devils as Leeds look to end a poor run at Old Trafford.

The Whites are winless in their last 16 away league meetings with Manchester United since February 1981, including a heavy 6-2 loss in this corresponding fixture last season.

Bielsa's side ended last season with four successive Premier League wins, a run in which only Arsenal and Liverpool (both five) could better at the end of the campaign.

They last won five consecutive Premier League games in March and April 2001, with a run of six.

Leeds United view Jack Grealish's transfer as a warning sign as they look to keep Kalvin Phillips at Elland Road, according to Leeds' chief executive Angus Kinnear.

Grealish made Premier League history when he joined Manchester City last week for a record-breaking fee, Aston Villa unable to keep their captain with a release clause triggered by the reigning champions.

But Leeds remain adamant they will not suffer a similar fate with their key asset Phillips, who impressed in his debut Premier League campaign and subsequently for England at Euro 2020.

"The lure of Champions League and playing for a team that's going to win trophies turned the player's [Jack Grealish] head," Kinnear told the Square Ball podcast.

"I know Aston Villa didn't have to sell him, even at that value, and they wanted to keep him, but when the player wants to go, you have a problem.

"Our job is making sure all the players feel wanted and valued and they can grow at Leeds United. Kalvin is a long-term pillar for the club. We'll work with him and his representatives to make sure he feels valued and motivated and wants to be at Leeds United."

Phillips starred for Leeds on their return to the Premier League, ranking fifth at the club for duels won and fourth for recoveries last term, while his 1189 passes also placed him fifth – despite missing nine top-flight fixtures.

However, it was at Euro 2020 where he hit the headlines, partnering with Declan Rice in midfield to form a remarkable pairing as England reached their first major final in 55 years.

The 25-year-old recovered possession a team-high 45 times, while only three England players completed more than his 293 successful passes.

Phillips was the subject of transfer interest from Grealish's former club in 2019, prompting him to sign a new five-year deal, but Kinnear insisted Leeds will not be rushed into offering further improved terms.

"At the moment he's got three years on his contract," the chief executive said. "It's a healthy contract and we don't need to rush into any of these things. But we defend interest in our players very vigorously in the market place.

"This summer we've received a number of firm expressions of interest and some offers for players that would be perceived as our marquee talent.

"None of them have been entertained, no discussions or negotiations have taken place."

For the first time in his career, Lionel Messi is looking for a new club.

Barcelona announced on Thursday contract talks had been unsuccessful due to the "economic and structural obstacles" of LaLiga's salary restrictions.

Messi's next step is far from obvious, but what if we imagine money is no object and he could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've has imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side – who are beautiful to watch as it is – is a wonderful idea. He will certainly know all about the club from former player and close friend Luis Suarez.

Given the players Barca have signed from Ajax in the past – Frenkie de Jong the latest – it would be nice to see a player going in the opposite direction.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side have captured the hearts of the football world in recent seasons, threatening title challenges in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals in 2019-20.

They have done all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region particularly hard.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulled the strings for Atalanta in the past was a joy to watch, but imagine if compatriot Messi were in that role. Imagine him again facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats – what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but will hope to be on the up again in the Bundesliga after surviving a relegation play-off last term.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United returned to the Premier League with a bang last season, continuing their progress under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to truly awaken a sleeping giant of the English game and take Leeds to the next level while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Pep, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

Jack Grealish has been holidaying following Euro 2020, but it is now decision time on his club future.

Speculation has mounted over the past few days about a potential move to Manchester City.

City manager Pep Guardiola is a long-term admirer of Grealish, and a big-money bid has apparently been sanctioned by chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak.

TOP STORY - GREALISH SET FOR MONDAY TALKS WITH VILLA

Grealish has returned from his off-season holiday and will hold showdown talks with Aston Villa on Monday as a move to City looms, reports The Mirror.

Grealish has been linked with a £100million move to the English champions and is expected to inform Villa of his intention to leave.

Villa have reportedly offered Grealish a bumper new deal worth £200,000-a-week.

 

ROUND-UP

Tottenham have turned their attention to Wolves winger Adama Traore, according to the Daily Mail. Wolves reportedly want £45m for the Spain international, who would be re-acquainted with manager Nuno Espirito Santo. Goal claims Leeds United are also interested in Traore.

Atletico Madrid are preparing for Kieran Trippier to exit the club as links with Manchester United intensify, with the Spanish champions lining up a move for Roma's Alessandro Florenzi, claims AS.

Atletico are also pursuing Inter's Lautaro Martinez and have moved ahead of Arsenal in the race to sign the Argentina international, according to Tuttosport.

- Borussia Dortmund's Denmark international Thomas Delaney is being pursued SouthamptonNorwich City and Crystal Palace, reports Ruhr Nachrichten.

- ABC claims Real Madrid will offer forward Karim Benzema a new one-year contract extension.

Manchester City still hope to sign Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane in the coming days.

The Premier League champions appear likely to add his international team-mate first, with Jack Grealish reportedly close to a move to the Etihad Stadium.

Aston Villa have tabled a contract to keep their star man, but City are prepared to spend big to win his signature.

 

TOP STORY - CITY CLOSE ON GREALISH DEAL

Manchester City are set to complete a £100million move for Jack Grealish in the next few days, according to multiple reports

The Mail says the 25-year-old England international will earn more than £200,000 a week upon joining Pep Guardiola's side. 

Though City are expected to cut ties with some veteran players, adding Grealish will have no impact on their longstanding pursuit of Harry Kane, the Sun reports.

 

ROUND-UP

- Saul Niguez is weighing up a move to the Premier League, with the Mirror reporting Manchester United and Liverpool are possibilities for the Atletico Madrid midfielder in a £35-£40m deal. 

- Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are possibilities for Bernardo Silva if he leaves City in the coming weeks, reports the Mail. 

- Atalanta centre-back Cristian Romero wants to join Tottenham but the clubs are having difficulty reaching an agreement, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Brazilian striker Kaio Jorge is set for a €3m (£2.5m) permanent move to Juventus from Santos and is expected to sign through to 2026, reports Romano. 

- Arsenal and Everton have shown interest in Schalke's Matthew Hoppe after the USA international's strong Gold Cup performance, reports US journalist Grant Wahl.

- Talks between Wolves and Adama Traore have broken down and Leeds could swoop for the winger, reports Goal. 

- Brighton are interested in Benfica striker and Urugay international Darwin Nunez, reports the Mail. 

It seems clear that Paul Pogba will not remain at Old Trafford for the long haul.

Also clear: Paris Saint-Germain's interest in the France midfielder.

The big question that remains to be answered is the timing of a potential move for the Manchester United man.

 

TOP STORY – PSG WEIGH UP POGBA OPTIONS

Paris Saint-Germain are interested in a move for Paul Pogba but are still debating when to make their bid.

According to The Athletic, PSG have begun discussions to determine Pogba's interest in a move but have not made a formal approach to United.

While the report says a bid is expected within the next few weeks, it remains a possibility that PSG could wait until Pogba is out of contract in 2022 and deal with the player directly.

Paul Pogba's future at Manchester United has drawn speculation.

The France international has one year left on his United contract and is yet to re-sign with the Red Devils.

The 2018 World Cup winner has numerous big-spending admirers and impressed at Euro 2020.

 

TOP STORY - PSG PLOT CUT-PRICE POGBA DEAL

Paris Saint-Germain are lining up Manchester United's French mdifielder Paul Pogba for a cut-price £50million (€58m) deal, claims the Daily Star.

Big-spending PSG have already landed Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum this off-season and will need to sell players to fund the deal.

L'Equipe reports PSG are confident they can land Pogba on a cut-price deal given his contract status.

 

ROUND-UP

- Denmark's Euro 2020 star Mikkel Damsgaard is set for a Premier League switch this off-season with interest from Tottenham, Liverpool, Leeds and Leicester City reports HITC. However, Gazzetta dello Sport claims Sampdoria will not sell the Danish talent for less than €40 million (£34m).

- Atalanta want €60million (£52m) for Manchester United target Cristian Romero, who has also been linked with Tottenham and Barcelona according to Calciomercato.

- Sport claims Philippe Coutinho will leave Barcelona this off-season, with Leicester City, Inter and Milan among the top contenders to sign him.

- Football Insider reports that Liverpool have approached Wolves about Spain winger Adama Traore.

- New Everton manager Rafa Benitez wants to sign Barcelona defender Clement Lenglet, reports Fichajes.

- Hector Bellerin is ready to leave Arsenal to join Italian champions  Inter, claims FourFourTwo.

- Tottenham are mulling over a move for Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix according to The Boot Room.

Leeds United have announced the signing of left-back Junior Firpo from Barcelona on a four-year contract.

The 24-year-old has reportedly cost the Premier League club £12.8million (€15m) just two years after he joined Barca from Real Betis.

Firpo had scored three goals and provided five assists from 26 chances created in all competitions in his final season at Betis, appearing 29 times.

But he struggled for opportunities at Camp Nou, with Spain international Jordi Alba the clear first choice.

Firpo scored twice and supplied two assists across two seasons for the Blaugrana, with only 22 of his 41 outings coming from the start.

He hailed Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa as a key factor in his decision to join the club.

"I saw him [Bielsa] in Spain when he trained there," Firpo told Leeds' official website.

"I know the coach that he is, and for me he is a really good coach. He wants to press all the time, play one against one many times, and for me that's my football. 

"Physical football, running, having the ball, for me it's not a problem and I think he will help me go to another level.

"I think in this team I can show the player that I am, for me I hope I can show the people what I want to show."

 

Firpo would appear to be a direct replacement for Ezgjan Alioski, the North Macedonia international who spent much of last season at left-back before his contract expired.

Ranking Alioski's 2020-21 output against Firpo's in his final year at Betis, the pair are comparable in an attacking sense.

Firpo created 1.01 chances per 90 minutes, just shy of Alioski's 1.02.

But the Spain Under-21 international both attempted (2.45 versus 0.99) and completed (1.28 versus 0.42) more dribbles per 90.

Alioski's defensive shortcomings should not be quite so evident in Firpo either, with the new man dribbled past 0.62 times per 90 against the outgoing player's 1.43.

Stuart Dallas, who also filled in at left-back, was beaten even more often (1.53 times per 90), although he played in numerous roles.

There were two main winners from England's defeat of Croatia in their Euro 2020 opener: England themselves, obviously, and Kalvin Phillips.

The Leeds United midfielder received widespread praise for his role in the victory, with pundits such as Alan Shearer, Gary Neville and even Jose Mourinho applauding the man dubbed by fans on social media as the 'Yorkshire Pirlo'.

Now, this isn't going to be a straight comparison between Phillips and Andrea Pirlo because that just wouldn't be fair on the 2006 World Cup winner.

No, instead our goal here is to understand whether Phillips always plays in the manner of his showing against Croatia – have many people been sleeping on his talents for too long?

The shield becomes the weapon

The short answer to whether that was a typical Phillips display is, technically, no.

For Leeds, Phillips tends to act as the screen in front of the defence, taking the ball off those at the back and distributing it further forward to get Leeds on the front foot.

He fits the role perfectly for Leeds because his excellent athleticism lends itself ideally to Marcelo Bielsa's intense pressing setup, which is identified by the fact they allowed the opposition fewer passes per defensive action (PPDA) in 2020-21 (9.3) than any other team, meaning they commit bodies to winning possession back earlier than everyone else in the Premier League.

But there is much more to Phillips than his ability to run – he also has significant destructive qualities and is a fine passer of the ball.

Some England fans might've been frustrated to initially see Phillips named in the starting XI alongside Declan Rice. The optics of such a duo based on their club roles would have led to some worrying Southgate was being excessively cautious – again – and creativity would subsequently be missing.

Former England midfielder Darren Anderton was among those concerned in that sense.

"I think, sometimes when you look at that, it looks like it's two defensive midfielders, and I don't like that too much," Anderton told Stats Perform. "I think it makes it a little bit one-dimensional. I think central midfielders should be able to make those good passes forward as well, but I think he can do all of that.

"And his energy as well was outstanding on the day. He was the best player for England."

As it happened, Phillips created the winning goal, and it was in this action that you got the clearest glimpse of just how different a role he was playing, much to Anderton's satisfaction.

"His moment of quality is what won the game for England," he continued. "He's a great player, he was the difference on the day, there's no doubt about it. He made the surging run forward and he also made the perfect pass for Sterling.

"But he still had a great game getting around the pitch, breaking play up, and was good going forward as well."

 

Unleashed

As touched upon by Anderton, the main difference between how Phillips was deployed against Croatia and how Marcelo Bielsa uses him for Leeds is that Southgate encouraged him to play a more advanced role.

There was much less emphasis on Phillips to get on the ball and dictate the play. After all, with Rice alongside him and seemingly having a slightly less well-rounded skillset, why would you have Phillips playing deep as well?

Of course, that will have been the concern of many England fans pre-game, but the fact Phillips' total passes (33) and touches (44) were actually significantly down on his Premier League per-90 minute averages (52 passes, 69.8 touches) highlights just how different Southgate was asking him to play.

But it doesn't end there.

Granted, his 20 passes in the opposing half was also down on his average for 2020-21 (23.8), but those were from a much smaller total. When you consider that those 20 equate to 61 per cent as opposed to his usual 46 per cent, the picture becomes clearer still.

Similarly, his tackles and interceptions (one each) were down on his Leeds numbers (2.7 tackles per 90 mins, 1.7 interceptions) because he wasn't being used to screen the back four, he was operating higher up the pitch.

On top of that, his five recoveries in the middle third of the pitch was a major increase on the 3.6 he records each game for Leeds, while his one in the final third set against the 0.3 he averages in that area normally again showcases a significant change.

It's also worth pointing out that Phillips was actually caught offside against Croatia, something he hasn't ever done in 116 matches under Bielsa.

Now, of course a single match is a small sample size to consider, but the data does go some way to showing how smart Southgate's selection was, and Phillips' assist for Sterling hasn't even been the focus here.

However, his work in that instance certainly warrants praise as the move was 90 per cent him – his progressive off-the-ball run into space showed his exceptional spatial awareness, before then beating a defender with a lovely touch and offloading the inch-perfect pass.

It encapsulated his performance perfectly, but it'll be intriguing to see whether these trends continue or if Phillips thriving in a more advanced role was a fluke.

Those who've seen him play regularly won't have any concerns about him repeating certain feats against Scotland in what promises to be an intense and high-octane rivalry clash, when his all-action approach will surely be vital.

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