Jurgen Klopp claims he has become "a much better manager" after learning to cope with Liverpool's injury crisis.

The Reds boss made the assertion as he hit back at those who accuse him of making excuses for his side's slump.

Liverpool stormed to the title with 99 points last season - the second-highest tally ever - but have dropped off massively this term and are in a battle for a top-four finish ahead of Thursday's clash with Chelsea.

Klopp has had to constantly chop and change his defence due to long-term injuries sustained by Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez - integral members of last season's title-winning side - early in the campaign.

Fellow centre-back Joel Matip was ruled out for the season in late January, while makeshift defenders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have also struggled for fitness, the latter undergoing surgery last week that will keep him out until at least April.

Liverpool brought in Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak in the January transfer window, though their arrivals coincided with Liverpool losing four home games in a row in the Premier League - their worst such run at Anfield in 98 years.

But "detail fanatic" Klopp, who has regularly bemoaned Liverpool's injury luck this term, believes he and his players can grow stronger from the experience.

"Most of the problems are as a result of the injury situation," he told Sky Sports. "This year we have faced completely new problems. I have never in my life - and I have been doing the job for 20 years - had to change the last line every week.

"I am a much better manager this season than I was before because usually you are not having to think about these things, but now I am having to think about them constantly.

"We had a situation on Friday night. We trained all week, or the few days that we had to train, with one specific line-up and then overnight we had to change it completely.

"That is another big thing to do that is common in football but we have had it plenty of times.

"People might say that is an excuse. I could not care less, to be honest. We do not use it as an excuse but if you ask me the question then it is the explanation for why things changed.

"We are all detail fanatics and it is very important that the little things work really well because then they become really influential on the bigger picture. Very often, that means the way you defend.

"You work on it but you do not change it too much because defending is something where stability is really important. And we have had to change our defence way too often to have any kind of stability, that is the truth."

He added: "I am not angry about it or whatever, I am 53 years old. I have had different moments in my life. Wonderful moments, lesser moments. It is just a football problem."

Liverpool can move into the Premier League top four with victory at home to Chelsea and are 2-0 up against RB Leipzig ahead of next week's Champions League last-16 second leg.

Klopp, under contract at Anfield until 2024, can see signs of recovery but accepts results have to improve if supporters are to feel the same way.

"The problem is that football is all about results and if these little things that are better than before do not lead to better results, then people do not want to hear about them," he said.

"If we are winning 15 or 20 games in a row, people listen to me and say, 'Oh my god, what kind of genius stuff is he saying'.

"When we are not winning games, I can say exactly the same things and people will say, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, just make sure you win the game'."

Erling Haaland continues to dominate headlines.

The Borussia Dortmund sensation is one of the most sought-after players in Europe.

Manchester City and Real Madrid are reportedly going head-to-head to sign the Norwegian.

 

TOP STORY – AGUERO OUT, HAALAND IN?

Manchester City want to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland as a replacement for veteran forward Sergio Aguero, according to Bild.

Aguero, who has been hampered by injury this season, is out of contract at the end of the current campaign.

Haaland is a player in demand, having been linked to Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich.

But Haaland dominates the front pages of Thursday's Marca, Diario AS and Mundo Deportivo in Spain amid Madrid's interest.

The Norway international reportedly wants to listen to Madrid, who will need €150million to prise Haaland to the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Lyon star Houssem Aouar remains on the radar of Juventus. Aouar has previously been linked with the Serie A champions, as well as Arsenal.

Chelsea are interested in Monaco's defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, claims ESPN.

- O Jogo says Liverpool could reignite their interest in Sporting CP defender Nuno Mendes. Juve, Madrid and Milan have also been tracking the 18-year-old, who has a £60m (€70m) release clause.

Edinson Cavani is open to extending his United contract, according to Fabrizio Romano. Cavani joined United as a free agent on a one-year deal at the start of the season. The former PSG star has been linked with Boca Juniors.

"Of course we have a certain history…but we don't know each other as well as everybody thinks."

So said Thomas Tuchel during a glowing assessment of his German compatriot Jurgen Klopp, not long after replacing club legend Frank Lampard in the Chelsea dugout in January.

You could be forgiven, though, for thinking there is a much stronger bond between two men from the same country, whose paths from young heavy-metal upstarts to coaching heavyweights have taken eerily similar paths.

There are striking facets in each man's style of play too. The high intensity pressing, the devastating speed of the counter-attack, the fluidity of the forwards.

Now, whether you are a believer in fate or coincidence, the two are set to battle in the Premier League for the first time on Thursday when Chelsea – unbeaten so far under Tuchel – visit Anfield to take on Klopp's Liverpool.

With that in mind, let's take a trip down memory lane.

BECOMING THE MAINZ MAN

"I had fourth-division feet and a first-division head".

Even as a player, Klopp always believed his talents were better suited to the touchline than inside the white lines and it was at second-tier Mainz – where he made over 300 league appearances as a player – where he would get the chance to cut his coaching teeth.

Appointed in February 2001, Klopp helped stave off the threat of relegation and then led the team to consecutive fourth-place finishes, narrowly missing out on promotion.

But the old adage proved true, as the third time proved a charm for Klopp as Mainz were promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in their history.

Klopp had the smallest budget and the smallest stadium in the top flight, but in his first two campaigns among the elite, employing his now famed Gegenpress, he led Mainz to back-to-back 11th-place finishes and a first foray into European football – qualifying for the UEFA Cup thanks to the Fair Play draw.

Relegation followed in the next campaign, and in total Klopp enjoyed 29 wins from 102 Bundesliga games as Mainz boss, a win percentage of 28.43 in Germany's top flight – his side scoring 130 goals and conceding 159.

He had a points-per-game average of 1.13 with Mainz in the Bundesliga but, after failing to secure a return to the top tier the following campaign, Klopp departed for pastures new. More on that later.

So, what next for Mainz? Well, the original route was the appointment of Jorn Andersen, who successfully achieved promotion but was sacked before the 2009-10 top-flight campaign even started, with Mainz stating the aims of the club and the coach were no longer the same.

Enter Tuchel…

A knee injury curtailed Tuchel's playing career at the age of 25 and he worked in the youth team at Stuttgart before overseeing the second team at Augsburg – a club he previously played for.

It was here where Tuchel impressed Bundesliga teams, coaching a side including Julian Nagelsmann, and Mainz came calling after dismissing Andersen.

Despite limited funds and a supposedly inferior playing squad, a team including Andre Schurrle and Adam Szalai helped Mainz to a ninth-placed finish.

Better things were to come the following season. The likes of Lewis Holtby and future Premier League winner Christian Fuchs arrived and Tuchel led Mainz to their highest ever finish of fifth.

The difficulties of mixing domestic and European football were a struggle and the next two campaigns saw Mainz finish 13th before coming an impressive seventh in 2013-14, Tuchel's last season in charge.

By the end of his tenure, Tuchel had a win percentage of 38.24 in the Bundesliga – significantly higher than Klopp's and the best of any Mainz coach.

Under Tuchel, Mainz won 65 Bundesliga games, scored 229 goals, conceded 230 and finished with a points-per-game ratio of 1.41. After a year out of the game, another opportunity was to arise…

DELIGHTING IN DORTMUND

When Klopp arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, both parties could hardly have dreamed they would be a better match.

Earlier in the decade, Dortmund were a club on the brink of financial ruin after years of heavy spending.

It meant Klopp's remit was to work within a limited budget and develop youth talent. And boy did he succeed in his task – putting together a team that would mix it with the best of European football.

The early signs were promising as Dortmund finished sixth and fifth in Klopp's first two campaigns, an improvement on 13th in the season prior to him taking over.

But it was 2010-11 when things really clicked. A star-studded cast led by Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze, Mats Hummels and Shinji Kagawa pressed, hassled and swashbuckled their way to Bundesliga glory.

Dortmund would repeat the trick a year later with their 81 points at the time a Bundesliga record, while they made it a domestic double in the process by adding the DFB-Pokal.

Bayern Munich regained top spot in the Bundesliga in the following season (and have not looked back since) but Klopp's reputation continued to grow as Dortmund reached the Champions League final – only to be denied as Arjen Robben's 89th-minute winner earned Bayern a famous treble.

Dortmund were runners-up in the league and cup in 2013-14, and a disappointing start to the next term that saw Dortmund initially in relegation trouble would mark the beginning of the end of a glorious chapter.

Still, a recovery to seventh in the table and a run to the Pokal final meant Klopp left with his head held high. In total, Dortmund won 133 of their 238 Bundesliga matches under Klopp – ending with a win percentage of 55.88 and an average of 1.91 points per game, with 469 goals scored and 248 conceded.

But life at Signal Iduna Park had to go on and, you guessed it… enter Tuchel.

It was a natural fit in many ways, with Dortmund keen to find someone who would fit a similar mould to Klopp when he first joined. Young, vibrant, a desire to press and attack at pace.

There was much to admire in Tuchel's first campaign, but Bayern's winning machine continued as they finished 10 points clear of their rivals.

Dortmund spent big to replenish a squad depleted by the departures of Hummels, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ilkay Gundogan ahead of the 2016-17 season, but they accumulated 14 fewer points to finish third in the league – a triumph in the Pokal proving Tuchel's only trophy at the club.

While there was plenty to admire on the pitch, off it Tuchel's reign was mired by disagreements with Dortmund's hierarchy – most notably CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke.

Tuchel left with a win percentage in the Bundesliga of 61.76 (beaten only by Lucien Favre's 63.29 among Dortmund coaches with at least 10 games in charge), accruing an impressive 2.09 points per game.

HEAD-TO-HEAD AND 'THAT' GAME AT ANFIELD

Similar paths, similarities in styles, contrasting fortunes then.

But Thursday's clash at Anfield is by no means the first time these two have gone head to head.

Indeed, there were 10 occasions when the two were in opposition dugouts in the Bundesliga – with Klopp winning seven of those and Tuchel only one.

When extending that to all competitions, Klopp has triumphed nine times from 14 games, while Tuchel bumps up only slightly to two victories.

Their most famous showdown, of course, came in the 2015-16 Europa League quarter-finals, where Klopp was handed a romantic return to the club he once considered his home.

A 1-1 draw in Dortmund preceded one of the greatest second-leg contests in the competition's history.

Goals from Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had Dortmund 2-0 up inside 10 minutes to stun Anfield and, although Divock Origi's goal just after the break reduced the arrears, Marco Reus' effort before the hour had seemingly sewn things up.

Cue pandemonium. Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho were on target to level things on the night and Dejan Lovren's injury-time header completed the most memorable and emotional of comebacks, Liverpool celebrating a 4-3 victory.

Since that night, Klopp has become a Premier League and Champions League winner with the Reds, while Tuchel's arrival at Stamford Bridge was preceded by a couple of Ligue 1 title triumphs with Paris Saint-Germain and a 1-0 loss to Bayern in last season's showpiece game in Europe's premier competition.

Klopp and Tuchel also had a win apiece when Liverpool and PSG met in the 2018-19 Champions League group stages.

Now their familiar paths have led to the Premier League for the latest showdown between two of the greatest coaching minds in football.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel believes the Blues can challenge for the Premier League title next season as they look to close the gap on Manchester City.

City are 14 points clear atop the table and on track to secure silverware, while fifth-placed Chelsea fight to qualify for the Champions League this term.

Tuchel's Chelsea are 21 points adrift of Pep Guardiola's City, having finished 33 points behind Premier League champions Liverpool in 2019-20.

Chelsea have struggled to compete for the title since reigning supreme in 2016-17 – the London outfit were 26 points behind City in 2019 and 30 in 2018.

But former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel, who replaced Frank Lampard in January, is confident Chelsea can match the standard set by City and Liverpool next term.

"If you read these numbers out loud then it seems not," Tuchel said ahead of Thursday's showdown with Liverpool. "But we should not limit our thoughts. We should try and not prepare for excuses.

"The amount of points shows how big the gap is. But it has to be the ambition to close it as fast as possible.

"It's a thin line between the argument and giving already an excuse to myself and the players. I don't want to do that. It's not my nature and you can only push yourself to the limit if you don't accept it from the beginning.

"Will we close the gap to City this season? No. But next season on we start with zero points. City were in trouble this season and nobody took advantage. It's proven in sports that you can do an extraordinary step, improve staff and grow if you catch the momentum.

"Now we are challenging for top four, which was a big task when we stepped in, and from next year we will challenge for all titles."

Chelsea have lost their last two away league games against Liverpool, last losing more consecutively at Anfield between September 1992 and October 1997 (six).

Tuchel is unbeaten in his first nine matches as Chelsea boss in all competitions (W6 D3), with only Jose Mourinho (10 games) and Luiz Felipe Scolari (12 games) having longer unbeaten starts as Blues managers.

German tactician Tuchel added: "I have to earn it that I can have the same time as [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Klopp and Pep.

"This was no gift to them. I think everybody in the club saw what they are doing and this is what I have to prove. I have to live every day to make my impact here and to show that I deserve the same amount of time to build teams. But I don't have the feeling that it's an obstacle that holds me back from building."

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted the faltering Premier League holders will struggle to "excite" potential signings without Champions League football.

Klopp helped end Liverpool's 30-year wait for an English league title last season, but the defending champions are struggling to replicate that form this season.

Liverpool are not only 22 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City, but they are also sixth and two points adrift of the top four in the race for a Champions League berth.

The Reds have been linked with the likes of Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, but Klopp issued a transfer warning ahead of Thursday's blockbuster clash against fifth-placed Chelsea.

"The main reason for qualifying for the Champions League is always financial," Klopp said. "It is a great competition to play in but for the club it's about [finances].

"Sure, you want to excite some players. In the beginning we were sitting with some players who had offers from clubs who played in the Champions League and it was like 'ok, sorry, we can only offer nothing or Europa League!'

"But apart from that it's always about finances. This year there is no difference, I would say. I hope people still see we do our absolute best and try everything to make it happen, but we will see how it will end up.

"It is not that the owners called me and said 'if you don't qualify for the Champions League then this or that will happen', because we are all together. We all understand the situation. They know we try absolutely everything to qualify for the Champions League again, that's clear."

Klopp, meanwhile, is ready to block his players from representing their countries during the international break due to quarantine protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

World Cup qualifiers are set to take place this month but under current COVID-19 guidelines, arrivals from countries the United Kingdom regards as high risk are subject to 10 days of hotel quarantine.

"I think all the clubs agree that with the same problems, we cannot just let the boys go and then sort the situation when they come back by placing our players in a 10-day quarantine in a hotel. It is just not possible," Klopp said.

"I understand the needs of the different FAs but this is a time where we cannot make everyone happy and we have to admit the players are paid by the clubs so it means we have to be first priority."

Klopp added: "We just deal with what other people decided so we got kind of used to it. But I think everyone agrees we cannot let the players go and play for their country and come back and quarantine for 10 days in a hotel."

Liverpool have lost each of their last four Premier League home games, as many as they had in their first 100 at Anfield under Klopp. The Reds have never lost five consecutive home games in their history, either in the league or all competitions.

Meanwhile, Liverpool have won each of their last four Premier League meetings with Chelsea, netting 11 goals and conceding four. The only team to win five in a row against Chelsea in the Premier League is Blackburn (seven between February 1993 and May 1996).

Thomas Tuchel plans to push Tammy Abraham "to his limits" and remains convinced he can get the best out of the striker at Chelsea.

Abraham is the Blues' top scorer in all competitions this season but was an unused substitute as Chelsea defeated Atletico Madrid 1-0 in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie last week.

The England striker did not even make the bench for Sunday's drab goalless draw against Manchester United with Olivier Giroud – the match-winner versus Atleti – chosen to lead the line and Timo Werner coming off the bench. 

Abraham had previously made five appearances, four from the start, and scored once since Tuchel was chosen as Frank Lampard's successor towards the end of January.

Tuchel insists Abraham's omission is not a punishment and merely a reflection of the strength in depth currently at his disposal.

"I think [I can get the best out of him], and this is my job to push him to his limits," Tuchel said at a news conference previewing Thursday's trip to Anfield to face Liverpool.

"We will not stop doing this in supporting him. This was a tough decision, but when things are like now, with hopefully nobody injured, we have these decisions to make.

"It's a part of my job which I do not like, but at the same time I like because it means we have everybody available. And then you have to make these decisions, which we communicate normally clearly.

"We have to cut it down to 18 players, so in the end it's not always a punishment or a signal to a player who is not in the squad.

"And in this case it was exactly like this. It was not a punishment or a signal, it was just a choice from the alternatives, on which position, who starts, who could come from the bench."

HOW DOES ABRAHAM RANK AGAINST OTHER OPTIONS?

Since breaking into the first team at Stamford Bridge at the start of last season, Abraham has been a bit of an anomaly in the sense he seems to regularly score goals, yet has never quite had the complete trust in his ability to perform consistently at an elite level.

But is that fair? 

Well, the evidence this season suggests Abraham has shown he is good enough to lead the line, albeit - perhaps unsurprisingly - there are areas of his game that need to improve. 

Abraham's 12 goals across all competitions is the highest among Chelsea players this season, with Giroud on 11 and Werner on 10.  

A shot-conversion rate of 25.53 per cent ranks third for the team. Only Giroud (27.5) and Jorginho (50) are above him, while Werner (13.3) – whose own issues in front of goal have been well documented during his debut campaign in England – is down in ninth. 

Abraham's 47 shots and 21 on target are the third and second best in the respective categories, with Werner (75 and 34) top in both. Giroud (40 and 20) is fourth and third. 

In terms of shooting accuracy, Abraham (51.22 per cent) languishes down the list for the Chelsea squad, well below the accuracy displayed by both Giroud (60.61) and Werner (58.62). 

However, he is top for Opta-defined big-chances scored on 10 (Werner and Giroud are on eight and six apiece), while his big-chance conversion rate of 62.5 per cent is substantially better than Giroud (42.86) and Werner (30.77) 

And his average of a goal every 126.58 minutes is comfortably ahead of Werner at 255.9, although Giroud's stands at an impressive 96.91. 

So, just what is Abraham missing right now? 

"He lacks a little bit of luck, Tammy, not only in games but also in training," Tuchel explained. 

"And once the last touch comes back, and he's fighting for it now, he will stay a player that we will push for."

Thomas Tuchel says the challenge of pitting his wits against Jurgen Klopp's genius has been getting him out of bed early.

Tuchel's Chelsea travel to Anfield to face Klopp's reigning Premier League champions Liverpool on Thursday, with both teams embroiled in the battle to secure a top-four finish.

It will be the first time the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund bosses have crossed paths in English football and Tuchel recognises something of the fervour Diego Simeone imbues in his Atletico Madrid sides within Klopp's Reds.

"It brings me out of bed early because it is a challenge for me to play against him," he told a news conference.

"He is a genius but, in the end, we will not meet up for a game of tennis, we play with our teams and we have to be prepared. 

"Jurgen has proved to be outstanding, he transforms any club into a unit and at all the three clubs he has worked at he has been a big part of them, with the heart of the fans. He is a huge success. 

"He has done that now abroad in the most difficult league and transformed Liverpool into a winning machine and a team that are super hard to play against. It is a union between his players and him and this is what you face when you play against him. 

"It is similar to Diego Simeone and the group of players at Atletico, they are really together and like I said, it is a big challenge, but we are up for the challenge."

Last week, Chelsea came through the challenge posed by Atletico to take a 1-0 lead at the midway point of their Champions League last-16 tie.

It was the high point of an encouraging start to Tuchel's tenure, whose Blues are fifth in the Premier League – a point and a place above Liverpool.

The gap between the sides is probably closer than Tuchel's nonetheless warm personal relationship with Klopp.

"Of course, we know each other but maybe not like everyone expects because I came into Mainz's academy at exactly the year that he left, so we never met there," he explained.

"I was his successor in Dortmund, so we did naturally not meet. Of course, we meet when there's a farewell game for a player that we both coached at Mainz then we sit together and talk.

"It is a lot of fun to talk to him and it is interesting when there's UEFA meetings or coach meetings. We use the time to have lunch or dinner together around those meetings.

"It is always super funny and interesting to talk to him, but it is not as close as it might seem maybe."

Speaking at his own briefing on Merseyside, Klopp offered a similar version of how often he and Tuchel cross paths and dismissed the notion of a rivalry between two of Germany's leading tacticians.

“I don't know how big it is [the rivalry] in Germany, I didn’t read anything yet. Who is the top manager in the Premier League? That is a competition for others to be interested in," he said.

"I am interested in winning a game and that is all, Thomas is the same.

"We've known each other for a long time, he worked for Mainz as I did, he worked for Dortmund as I did so a lot of people we know are the same.

"He worked for three years in Paris, so we didn't play each other a lot in the last five and a half years.

"I think he is an outstanding coach or manager, whatever you want to call it, and it will be tricky to play his team, like it always was."

Alisson and Fabinho are back in contention for Liverpool ahead of Thursday's clash with Chelsea, and Diogo Jota could potentially return if he manages to shake off an illness.

Brazil international goalkeeper Alisson missed the 2-0 weekend win at Sheffield United following the death of his father, with Adrian deputising at Bramall Lane.

It was not immediately clear how long Alisson would be absent for, but Klopp confirmed on Wednesday that he has trained all week and is in line to face Chelsea at Anfield.

Alisson's international colleague Fabinho has also been out lately, missing each of Liverpool's previous four matches across all competitions due to a muscular injury.

He will return to the squad as well on Thursday, though Klopp was a little less certain regarding Jota, who has not played since damaging knee ligaments in December.

However, the doubt surrounding the former Wolves star only relates to a stomach complaint, rather than a setback with his knee.

"Ali trained full week, so yes, we should expect he is ready to return," Klopp told reporters. "Fab has now five or six sessions in his legs, we have to make a decision about how we deal with that, but he looks good, he's ready for squad for sure.

"And Diogo had now a little stomach problem, or whatever you can say. He trained yesterday only a little bit – he was only out there for the warm-up, rondo and a little run, so…

"We got the message this morning that he feels better so we'll see what we can do with that. Before, he was doing exceptionally well but unfortunately got ill overnight and now we have to see how big the steps are that he can make towards the team again."

Fabinho has played much of the season away from his natural role in midfield, instead filling in as a centre-back such has been Liverpool's struggle with injuries.

Klopp was unsure whether he will be required at centre-back again, though he made no secret of how important he felt it would be to restore some familiarity to the midfield.

"Both [Fabinho in defence and midfield] is possible, which is good, it gives us options," he said. "If we can find a way to play him in midfield, that would be helpful.

"Our most consistent player this season is probably [Georginio] Wijnaldum, touch wood and long may it continue. He's played as a number six and pretty much all other positions, but with Fab in as a six would be helpful in some games. We will see. Both positions are intense.

In the past we had to play the players when they came back immediately because another player left pitch injured the game before, this time we don't have to do that.

"That's the first time, maybe. There's still a lot of games to come, so we'll see - is Fab close enough to start or is he only ready for the bench? Then which positions. These decisions are still to be made, though even if I had made them already, I wouldn't tell you exactly what my decision was."

Could Gianluigi Donnarumma swap Milan for London?

Donnarumma's future with Serie A outfit Milan is far from certain as he prepares to become a free agent.

While Chelsea already boast Edouard Mendy and Kepa Arrizabalaga in their goalkeeping ranks, the Premier League giants are reportedly interested in Donnarumma.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA EYE DONNARUMMA

Chelsea are monitoring Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma amid his contract situation at San Siro, according to Eurosport.

Donnarumma is out of contract at season's end and while Milan have been discussing a new deal, the Italy star is yet to commit to the Serie A club.

The 22-year-old has already been linked with the likes of Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports PSG are fighting Real Madrid to sign Bayern star David Alaba. The Austria international will leave Bayern on a free transfer at season's end and while he has been tipped to join Madrid, PSG remain keen on him, along with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

Inter have reached a "handshake agreement" with Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, claims Sport Mediaset. The Netherlands international, whose contract expires at the end of June, has been linked to Barcelona.

- Borussia Dortmund are increasingly resigned to losing star forward Erling Haaland at the end of the season as they turn to Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri, says Eurosport. Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, wanted by City, United, Madrid, Barca, PSG, Chelsea, Liverpool and others.

Former Liverpool and Scotland forward Ian St John has died at the age of 82 following a long illness.

St John was one of the star performers of the Bill Shankly era at Anfield after joining for a then club-record fee of £37,500 from Motherwell in 1961.

After helping Liverpool to secure promotion not Division One, he was a key member of title-winning sides in 1963-64 and 1965-66.

Those successes came either side of arguably St John's finest hour, when he netted an extra-time winner to sink Leeds United 2-1 in the FA Cup final and secure Liverpool's first success in the competition.

St John made 425 appearances for Liverpool between 1961 and 1971, scoring 118 goals.

He won 21 Scotland caps and returned to Motherwell as manager in 1973.

However, St John's post-playing career is best remembered for his time as a media personality, most notably alongside former England striker Jimmy Greaves on the inimitable "Saint and Greavsie" show.

"It is with a heavy heart that we have to inform you that after a long illness we have lost a husband, father and grandfather," St John's family said in a statement issued via Liverpool's official website.

"He passed away peacefully with his family at his bedside.

"We would like to thank all the staff at Arrowe Park Hospital for their hard work and dedication during these very difficult times.

"The family would be grateful for privacy at this extremely sad time."

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher was among those to pay tributes on social media.

"RIP Ian St John. Another Liverpool legend sadly passes away," he tweeted.

"One of the players, along with Bill Shankly, who made the club what it is today."

St John's compatriot and Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson tweeted: "A man of warmth, humour, knowledge, wisdom and joy.

"Scotland and Liverpool has lost a true giant. My love goes to his family. Rest in peace, Ian St John."

Pep Guardiola insists Bayern Munich and Liverpool still set the standard for his Manchester City side despite their dominant form.

City hold a 12-point lead at the top of the Premier League ahead of Tuesday's home game against Wolves, where they will chase a 21st consecutive win in all competitions.

That would bring them closer to the 'top five' European leagues record of 23 that Bayern Munich established on their way to a treble last season.

Guardiola's men beat Liverpool 4-1 as part of their ongoing run, with Jurgen Klopp's injury-hit side having stumbled out of the title race this time around.

After Saturday's 2-1 win against West Ham, Hammers boss David Moyes hailed City as Europe's best but Guardiola insists his team's form will count for nothing unless they manage to lift major prizes at the end of the campaign.

"The best team in Europe and the world is Bayern Munich because they won everything. They are the best," he said.

"In England the champions are Liverpool, they are the best. The crown, if you want to take it you have to win.

"In March, nobody is champion. You have to do well and try and win it, but we cannot deny the last two-and-a-half months were exceptional.

"When we played well, we won comfortably but when we didn’t play so well, we were able to take the points.

"In 20 games in a row winning, you will not be exceptional all the time. It's important in those games to be solid and take the points."

Guardiola would not be surprised if City's next game falls into the latter category.

Since Wolves' promotion to the Premier League for the 2018-19 season, City have won twice, lost twice and drawn once against Nuno Espirito Santo's side.

"The history against them dictates, shows us how tough it is," Guardiola said. "We know it perfectly, exactly the type of game we have to play to be so intense but at the same time calm.

"They play with your ambition and patience to punish you. You have to be so clever the way you have to play.

"In the last years it was so tough because of the quality and the structure they have and this year will be no exception."

Sergio Aguero played an hour against West Ham as he stepped up his moves towards match fitness and Guardiola reported City's all-time record goalscorer suffered no ill-effects.

Defender Nathan Ake (hamstring) remains his only senior absentee.

David Alaba has appeared set to swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid.

Alaba is keen for a new challenge following a successful partnership with Bundesliga and Champions League holders Bayern.

But three of Europe's elite are still reportedly eyeing Alaba.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO NOT GIVING UP ON ALABA

Liverpool, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are still trying to sign wantaway Bayern Munich star David Alaba, according to Fabrizio Romano's Benchwarmers column.

Alaba will leave Bundesliga champions Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season and he has been tipped to join LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

However, Liverpool, Chelsea and PSG are still pursuing the Austria international.

 

ROUND-UP

- RAC1 suggests Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is one of Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta's targets if Ronald Koeman does not remain at Camp Nou beyond 2020-21.

Madrid are interested in Manchester United target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, reports the Daily Star. Sancho was wanted by United at the start of the season but a big-money move did not materialise.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Atletico Madrid are tracking Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who is valued at around €25million.

Manchester United and Premier League rivals Leeds United are eyeing Torino defender Nicolas Nkoulou, according to Tuttosport. The 30-year-old is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- L'Equipe says Mauro Icardi is free to leave PSG if a suitable offer arrives amid links to Juventus. Icardi is contracted to the Ligue 1 champions until 2024, but PSG are focused on re-signing Kylian Mbappe and making Moise Kean's loan deal from Everton permanent. If Mbappe departs for Madrid, PSG will look to raise funds by selling Icardi as they dream of Tottenham's Harry Kane and Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Jurgen Klopp claimed Liverpool did enough to warrant their win over Sheffield United, but he knows Thursday's clash with Chelsea presents an altogether tougher challenge.

Liverpool stopped the rot in the Premier League on Sunday, ending a four-match losing streak by clinching a 2-0 win at Bramall Lane.

Curtis Jones opened the scoring with his second league goal, before Roberto Firmino's wayward effort diverted in off Kean Bryan. That brought up Liverpool's 7,000th top-flight goal - only Everton have scored more.

Oli McBurnie and Oliver Burke both missed good chances for the home side, who suffered their 21st Premier League defeat of the season, with the Blades the first side since Newport County in the fourth tier in 1970-71 to lose as many as 21 of their first 26 matches in an English Football League season.

Liverpool's focus now switches to a clash with Thomas Tuchel's Chelsea at Anfield.

Tuchel succeeded Klopp at Borussia Dortmund before going on to coach Paris Saint-Germain and now the Blues, who drew with Manchester United on Sunday.

A win would see Liverpool move above Chelsea, though a fifth straight home defeat could see the Reds' Champions League hopes take another blow.

"Very important. Many people have written us off, that's completely fine," Klopp told Sky Sports.

"Tonight we showed that we are still there, but on Thursday we play Chelsea and we have to show it again. But with all the problems we have we are still around the exciting places. That's where we want to be, what we will fight for.

"I have never thought about controlling the situation. We have to win football games and the rest is controlled by itself. It's always like this, there's no way without results to get into the Champions League.

"It's normal and right that we get criticised, but if it's just about the performance it makes it so tricky. We cannot fight like other teams, sit deep, let them come and hit on the counter-attack.

"That's not how we can get back on track, we have to keep being dominant and deal with the situation, disappointments and frustration in the games. In other games we might have reacted differently. Tonight we stayed on track and scored in the right moment, it always helps.

"I think we could have scored three goals in the first half. It just shows what we created was really, really good. The finishing was good enough today, but we know we can improve that."

Liverpool kept a first Premier League clean sheet since January 17, with Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips starting together for the first time in defence, in front of Adrian, who stood in for Alisson.

Kabak led the way for tackles (three) and clearances (four – level with Adrian) in Liverpool's team, though he did still have some shaky moments.

With Jordan Henderson set to miss a prolonged spell, Klopp is hoping to have Fabinho – himself a makeshift defender – fit to feature against Chelsea, while at the other end of the pitch, Diogo Jota is also set to return, having missed Sunday's match through illness.

"Probably [Jota and Fabinho] both back for Chelsea," Klopp said.

"Diogo was with us in the hotel but got sick, so he wasn't with us in the squad. I would think that he is ready for Thursday but I don't know at the moment.

"Fabinho has had two training sessions with the team, he should be closer, ready for the squad I am sure."

Manchester United lost further ground to Premier League leaders Manchester City as they played out a 0-0 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. 

The Red Devils are now 12 points behind Pep Guardiola's seemingly unstoppable side, who are well on their way to a third title in four seasons. 

Elsewhere, Liverpool returned to winning ways against Sheffield United and Arsenal came from behind to beat Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. 

A Gareth Bale-inspired Tottenham cruised past Burnley 4-0, while Crystal Palace and Fulham played out a dour 0-0 draw.

Chelsea 0-0 Manchester United: Red Devils' 'big six' struggles continue

While this result stretched United's unbeaten away run in the league to a whopping 20 matches – the joint-fifth-longest run in top-flight history – there was still a sense of disappointment at full-time. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have now failed to score in their last six league meetings with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Tottenham, with each of their last four such matches finishing goalless. 

This fixture has now finished 0-0 in both matches in a single league campaign for just the second time, the other occasion coming back in 1921-22. 

It marked the first time Chelsea have drawn 0-0 against an opponent home and away in the Premier League in the same season for the first time since 2008-09 against Everton, while United last did so against Aston Villa in 1996-97.

Thomas Tuchel can at least toast becoming just the second coach to not concede a single goal in his first four home matches in the Premier League after Brendan Rodgers in 2011-12 with Swansea City. Including his final two such matches in charge of Paris Saint-Germain, Tuchel has gone six games without conceding at home in league competition.

Sheffield United 0-2 Liverpool: Klopp's men get back on track

After four consecutive top-flight defeats champions Liverpool got their top-four bid back on track at Bramall Lane. 

Curtis Jones opened the scoring with his second goal for the Reds. In doing so, he became the youngest Liverpool player (20 years and 29 days) to score an away Premier League goal since Raheem Sterling in December 2014 against Burnley (20y 18d).

Their second – an own goal by Kean Bryan – was their 7,000th in the English top-flight, becoming only the second team to reach that tally after Merseyside rivals Everton (7,108).

Adrian was in goal for Jurgen Klopp's men and the Spaniard has now been on the winning side in 10 of his 12 Premier League starts for the club, although this was only his third clean sheet. 

The Blades, meanwhile, have now lost 21 games this season. They are the first side since Newport County in the fourth tier in 1970-71 to lose as many as 21 of their first 26 matches in an English Football League season.

Tottenham 4-0 Burnley: Brilliant Bale torments sorry Clarets

Bale was at his best as Tottenham registered their biggest Premier League home win since they thumped the Clarets 5-0 in December 2019. 

His first came after just 68 seconds, which was the fastest goal Burnley have ever conceded in a Premier League match. The previous quickest was a Yerry Mina effort after 99 seconds for Everton in December 2018.

Harry Kane doubled Spurs' advantage to continue his fine run against Sean Dyche's side. No player has scored more Premier League goals against Burnley than Kane (eight, level with Riyad Mahrez), with the England striker involved in 10 goals in his last six league appearances against them (seven goals, three assists).

Lucas Moura added a third before Bale wrapped up the scoring to take his goal involvements to seven in his last four appearances in all competitions. 

At the back, Hugo Lloris celebrated his 100th clean sheet in the competition. He became the 16th goalkeeper to reach that landmark, while he is the ninth quickest to reach it (285 games).

Burnley, meanwhile, have now lost 12 of their last 15 away top-flight matches against Spurs, shipping 48 goals and conceding at least four goals in seven games.

Leicester City 1-3 Arsenal: Gunners storm back to end 'top three' hoodoo

Arsenal ended a four-game winless run against the Foxes in the Premier League, securing their first victory against them in the competition since October 2018. 

It started poorly for Mikel Arteta's side, though, with Youri Tielemans scoring his sixth goal of the season early on. That is as many as he had scored in his first two seasons at the club combined. 

David Luiz pulled the Gunners level before Alexandre Lacazette put them ahead from the penalty spot. The France international has converted all five of his penalties for Arsenal across all competitions, while only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (13) has now netted more goals for the Gunners than Lacazette (11) this term.

Nicolas Pepe sealed the three points and has now equalled his Premier League goal tally from last season, scoring five this campaign in 13 fewer appearances (18 this term, 31 last season).

The result marked Arsenal's first away victory against a team starting the day in the top three of the Premier League since January 2015 (2-0 v Manchester City) – they were winless in their last 14 such games ahead of this clash (D3 L11).

Crystal Palace 0-0 Fulham: Lucky Eagles escape with a point

It should come as no surprise that this game ended goalless given Fulham's penchant for draws this season. 

Just one of the Cottagers' first 21 Premier League games under Scott Parker ended level, but the stalemate at Selhurst Park was their 10th draw in their last 15 top-flight matches. 

They were comfortably the better side and attempted 16 shots. Fourteen of those came in the second period – the most they have had in the final 45 minutes of a Premier League away game since 2003-04 without scoring.

Palace, meanwhile, have somehow managed to pick up four points from their last two league games despite attempting just six shots (facing 41), having only nine touches in the opposition box (compared to 70 by their opponents), and completing just 442 passes (compared to their opponents' 1065).

Indeed, they managed just 33 attempts in their five Premier League matches in February – the lowest recorded by a team in a single month of at least five games since the start of the 2003-04 campaign.

Curtis Jones dedicated his goal at Sheffield United to Liverpool team-mate Alisson, whose father died in tragic circumstances in Brazil.

Alisson was not included in Liverpool's squad as the reigning Premier League champions stopped their slide with a 2-0 win over the struggling Blades on Sunday.

It was reported that Jose Agostinho Becker drowned on Wednesday while swimming close to his holiday home. The 57-year-old was declared missing and, following a search, his body was found.

Jones scored the opener at Bramall Lane, with Kean Bryan's own goal then securing a much-needed victory for the Reds.

"It's been a difficult time for myself and the rest of the team, but I'm happy that I got on the scoresheet and I'd like to take this time to say that this goal is for Ali's dad, actually," Jones told Sky Sports.

"So, may he rest in peace and if Ali sees this, this is for you bro."

Asked how difficult the news had been for Liverpool's squad, Jones replied: "He's a strong lad, a big part of the team of course.

"He's not here today, we miss him for sure. I'd like to give the goal to him, his dad and the rest of his family."

Jones' goal was his second in the Premier League, and his first away from Anfield, while the 20-year-old midfielder also became the youngest Liverpool player to score a top-flight goal on the road since Raheem Sterling against Burnley in 2014.

"I'm a player that likes to assist and score goals – I think the right time is now," Jones added. "We've had good games but not scored as many goals as we'd like.

"Today was a good example of it all coming together. It was a good performance."

Jones finished with a game-high four goal attempts, with three of them on target, while his passing accuracy of 96.3 per cent was better than that of any other player who started the game.

It was a display which came as no surprise to Jurgen Klopp, who said it is vital that Jones – who was involved in both goals – starts to produce at the top end of the pitch on a consistent basis.

"A top player, no doubt about that. That's why he was playing. He was very important," Klopp said.

"We have talked about him being involved in more goalscoring situations as well, that's clear. Everyone has space for improvement. Tonight he was involved [in the goals] – that's good."

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