Liverpool got their Premier League title bid off to an untroubled start with a 3-0 win at newly promoted Norwich City.

Diogo Jota opened the scoring in the 26th minute, having been selected to start alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane up front.

Roberto Firmino, recently back in training following Brazil's run to the Copa America final, replaced Jota with an hour played at Carrow Road and swiftly got on the scoresheet.

Salah claimed both assists – the second seemingly far more intentional than the first – and duly got in on the act, finishing emphatically with 16 minutes remaining and becoming the first player to score on five consecutive Premier League opening weekends.

Tim Krul extended himself to tip over an 11th-minute header from Portugal forward Jota before his opposite number was given some work.

Teemu Pukki got in behind the returning Virgil van Dijk on the end of Todd Cantwell's dinked throughball and Alisson had to save sharply at his near post in the 19th minute.

A pleasing back and forth had developed as Salah crashed a volley just wide from Mane's chipped delivery and it was Liverpool who found the breakthrough when the Egypt star failed to control Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross, with the ball falling kindly for Jota to slot home.

Salah made a truer contact on the volley when a left-wing corner was partially cleared, with his strike blocked by Ben Gibson before Pierre Lees-Melou got in the way of Joel Matip's follow-up.

Last-ditch Norwich defending continued early in the second half as Max Aarons and Grant Hanley combined to thwart Mane.

Konstantinos Tsimikas, playing at left-back for Liverpool in the absence of Andy Robertson, stung Krul's palms after the hour and the second goal inevitably arrived when Salah retrieved another blocked Mane effort and cut the ball into Firmino's path for a simple finish.

The goal Salah's endeavours deserved arrived when he snaffled a Gibson clearance and curled impeccably beyond Krul.

Curtis Jones has been ruled out of Liverpool's opening Premier League game of the season at Norwich City through concussion.

The 20-year-old has featured in three of Liverpool's four pre-season friendlies and was pushing for inclusion for Saturday's trip to Carrow Road.

However, Jones was replaced during the first half of Monday's 3-1 win over Osasuna following a collision and will not be available this weekend as per concussion protocols.

"He had a slight concussion so we just have to follow the protocol," Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp told the club's official website.

"He is fine, he feels fine again, but that’s the protocol. He is available for training from Sunday on I think."

Liverpool will also be without influential left-back Andy Robertson for their meeting with Norwich, one which Jones would have been in contention to start.

The academy product made 24 appearances in the Premier League for the Reds last term, averaging 68.07 successful passes per 90 minutes, sitting him behind only Thiago Alcantara (74.64) and Jordan Henderson (83.51) among Liverpool midfielders.

Thiago and Henderson both made substitute appearances against Osasuna after returning to Liverpool following Euro 2020 duty - and both are in contention to play a part against Norwich.

Asked if there are any other fitness doubts besides Robertson and Jones, Klopp said: "No, not from an injury point of view.

"But yeah, a few players had a shorter pre-season than others. All the others are healthy."

Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 14 Premier League matches against Norwich ahead of this latest meeting, scoring 44 goals across that period at an average of 3.1 per game.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit and raring to go as Liverpool prepare for their Premier League opener against Norwich City on Saturday.

The right-back, who signed a new long-term contract at Anfield in July, suffered a thigh injury in June, forcing him to pull out of England's Euro 2020 squad.

Alexander-Arnold has been eased back into pre-season action and finally completed a full 90-minute outing in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao.

"Yes, definitely," the 22-year-old responded when asked if he was 100 per cent ready. "I’ve started pre-season quite well, in training I've been putting the work in, got the all-clear from the medical staff early doors in pre-season and have been able to push on, get fit and get the full 90 under my belt today.

"I think we've timed it well and it gives us a good couple of days to recover and then go on to Norwich next week."

Jurgen Klopp provided Alexander-Arnold his opportunity down the right flank and the wing-back has appeared in over 40 games a season for the last three campaigns – in which time the Reds have won the Champions League and the Premier League.

Since the start of 2018-19, no Liverpool player has created more chances than Alexander Arnold's 212, while he also leads the assist charts with 32 in that period.

Despite failing to recreate his best form from the 2019-20 season which saw him net four times and provided 13 assists, Alexander-Arnold still managed 34 starts and two goals last campaign but was part of a defence hampered by the absence of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez as Liverpool failed to retain their top-flight crown.

But Klopp has potential problems ahead of the Norwich opener on the other flank, with Andrew Robertson sustaining a suspected ankle injury in Sunday's outing against Bilbao.

"No, I haven't seen him, to be fair, but I think you know it’s going to be quite bad if Robbo has to come off," Alexander-Arnold said after being asked if he had spoken to his full-back partner.

"It's not something that he normally does so it’s disappointing to see, but I’m sure he will bounce back as soon as he can."

With or without Robertson, after a taste of the Anfield crowd returning for the Bilbao friendly, Alexander-Arnold is excited to perform in front of them during the 2021-22 term.

"This is the moment we’ve been waiting for," he added on seeing a near-full Anfield. "Obviously last season it was very quiet in here but to have the fans back today was special for us all. We've all been waiting for this moment."

Where will Lionel Messi land?

Barcelona's shock announcement of his departure set rumours flying.

Will it be Paris, Manchester or somewhere else?

 

TOP STORY - MESSI ON THE MARKET

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are rumoured to be the top suitors for Lionel Messi.

The French giants have already made contact with Messi's representatives, according to Fabrizio Romano, and are seen in many quarters as the favourites to land the Argentine forward.

It remains to be seen wherher PSG can take on Messi after making several major moves during the transfer window, while City may be in a similarly difficult situation after finalising their £100million deal for Jack Grealish on Thursday.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola may still be a possibility, though, especially if Tottenham refuse to engage in talks around a Harry Kane deal.

Major League Soccer could also be a possibility, though Messi is expected to remain in Europe for at least a few more years.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have not given up on a move for Kieran Trippier, though they have not come close to Atletico Madrid's £34million demands for the England international, The Sun says.

- West Ham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Fabrizio Romano reports, with the Serie A side eyeing Matija Nastasic of Schalke as a replacement.

- Arsenal have bid £17m for Lazio striker Joaquin Correa, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Juventus are interested in bringing back Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic on either a loan or a permanent deal, says Calciomercato.

- Roma are lining up a £21m bid for Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Crystal Palace are among multiple clubs hoping to lure Adam Armstrong from Blackburn, with the Daily Mail saying they are favoured ahead of Norwich City and Southampton.

Jack Grealish's mooted move to Manchester City appears set to imminently go through.

City manager Pep Guardiola has long admired the 25-year-old England midfielder.

English champions City have also been linked with Harry Kane as they chase an elusive Champions League crown.

TOP STORY - GREALISH BOOKED IN FOR MAN CITY MEDICAL

Aston Villa's Grealish is on the cusp of completing his £100million transfer to join Manchester City, according to the Birmingham Mail.

The report claims Grealish was due to arrive in Manchester on Wednesday, with a medical booked in.

Grealish returned from a holiday after Euro 2020 this week and was spotted at Villa training on Wednesday but has since reportedly headed north.

ROUND-UP

- Sky Sports claims Aston Villa are lining up a move for Norwich City midfielder Todd Cantwell as they prepare for Grealish to depart.

- Tottenham are plotting moves for PSV's Noni Madueke and Denmark's Euro 2020 star Mikkel Damsgaard according to the Evening Standard, as they plan their windfall from Harry Kane's potential sale to Manchester City.

- Fresh from Danny Ings leaving for Villa, Southampton are closing in on Blackburn forward Adam Armstrong, reports Football League World.

- The Sun claims Norwich City are looking to launch a £15m bid for Blackburn's Armstrong too. Irish prospect Adam Idah could be included in a player-plus-cash deal.

- Atalanta are set to hold talks with Chelsea for a move for striker Tammy Abraham according to Gianluca Di Marzio.

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.

Norwich City head coach Daniel Farke has signed a new four-year deal that will keep him at the club until 2025.

The German arrived at Carrow Road in 2017 after he departed from Borussia Dortmund and guided the Canaries to the Premier League in his second season.

Relegation followed in 2020, but the 44-year-old led his side to an immediate return at the first time of asking as Norwich collected 97 points on their way to the Championship title last campaign, the second time of being crowned champions under Farke. 

"I'm absolutely over the moon and feel pretty emotional in such a moment. I'm unbelievably grateful for all of the trust and support," Farke told the club's media on Wednesday.

"It is a pleasure to be allowed to continue to work on this level with such a special club and our unbelievable owners, Delia and Michael."

Farke's assistant manager Eddie Riemer, head of performance Chris Domogalla and first-team coach Christopher John all signed new terms for the same period, too.

Despite losing Emiliano Buendia to Aston Villa, Norwich have enjoyed a productive transfer window so far, perhaps courtesy of Farke's close relationship with sporting director Stuart Webber.

Farke has managed to bring in Werder Bremen's Milot Rashica, centre-back Ben Gibson and goalkeeper Angus Gunn, as well as the loan signing of Scotland international Billy Gilmour.

"I must also thank Stuart Webber for his trust and backing, my staff and players, as well as the supporters. We have a pretty special relationship in this club," Farke added.

"Now it's about going the next step, doing everything we can to make sure this club becomes an established Premier League side.

"We're in a much better position, both as a club and as a group, and we want to continue to build something unique and special."

Manuel Locatelli is hot property after helping Italy win Euro 2020.

The Sassuolo midfielder is understood to have an ambition to play Champions League football in 2021-22.

Sassuolo are ready to cash in on their prized asset with interest coming in.

 

TOP STORY - JUVENTUS RAMP UP LOCATELLI INTEREST

Juventus are ready to usurp Arsenal in the hunt for Sassuolo's Italy international Locatelli, according to The Guardian.

Sassuolo want €40 million (£34.3 million) for the midfielder but Juventus offered €30m as a loan for the 2021-22 season with an option to buy, which Sassuolo declined, insisting they want an outright transfer.

Arsenal were previously understood to be in the box seat to sign Locatelli, given they are prepared to pay their asking price, but Juve's interest may have changed that situation.

ROUND-UP

- New Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti wants to sign Manchester United defender Diogo Dalot, claims Mundo Deportivo. Dalot spent last season on loan with Milan.

- Jose Mourinho's Roma have joined the race to sign Villarreal's 25-year-old winger Alfonso Pedraza, according to Calciomercato. ChelseaMilan and Barcelona are also keen on the Europa League winner, who can play at left-back.

- L'Equipe reports Chelsea have offered Bayern Munich a player swap deal with Callum Hudson-Odoi in exchange for Kingsley Coman.

- The Daily Express claims Brighton and Hove Albion will prepare a move for Celtic forward Odsonne Edouard once the reported £50m sale of Ben White to Arsenal goes through.

Arsenal are also reportedly keen on Norwich City full-back Max Aarons as they prepare for Hector Bellerin's exit, according to the Express.

Chelsea prospect Billy Gilmour has joined newly promoted Norwich City on a season-long loan.

Gilmour joined Chelsea from Rangers aged 16 and made his first-team debut two years later under Frank Lampard in August 2019.

The midfielder quickly impressed but has struggled to hold down a regular starting role.

Thomas Tuchel, who replaced Lampard earlier this year, can also call on N'Golo Kante, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in that position and oversaw a Champions League final triumph against Manchester City.

Chelsea have therefore agreed to send Gilmour to Norwich in order to gain experience of top-flight football.

'EXCITED TO BE HERE'

"I'm very excited to be here," Gilmour said. "I can't wait for the season ahead.

"I've been looking forward to coming here, playing as much as possible and helping Norwich City compete in the Premier League.

"I spoke to the head coach here. He called me and we had a nice talk about how he wants to play and how he sees me fitting in.

"Everything he said was what I want to do on the pitch, get the ball down and play nice football. He spoke really highly of his team and I wanted to come join here and help."

SKIPP REPLACEMENT

The Canaries last season had Oliver Skipp on loan from Tottenham in the centre of their midfield as they won the Championship.

Skipp had only one goal and one assist in 47 Norwich appearances in all competitions but completed 88.1 per cent of his passes, won 55.9 per cent of his duels and recovered possession 5.6 times per 90 minutes.

In 22 career games for Chelsea, Gilmour is yet to register a goal involvement, although his passing accuracy is a favourable 89.0 per cent.

While the 20-year-old's duel success rate is down (47.8), a comparable 5.8 recoveries per 90 should see him fit into Daniel Farke's side.

SCOTLAND STANDOUT

Gilmour's transfer had been anticipated since he excelled for Scotland at Euro 2020.

The Chelsea man was limited to only one 76-minute outing against England due to a subsequent positive coronavirus test but impressed on his full international debut.

Gilmour completed 90.9 of his team-high 44 passes, also leading Scotland with 24 in the opposition half.

Although he won just two of 11 duels and conceded two fouls, Gilmour made a pair of tackles and recovered possession eight times en route to scooping UEFA's Star of the Match award.

Sergio Ramos' Real Madrid contract is due to officially expire on June 30.

The 35-year-old defender has been with Los Blancos since 2005.

There appears to be no shortage of suitors lining up for Ramos' signature.

 

TOP STORY – RAMOS WEIGHING UP POWERHOUSE TRIO

European heavyweights Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich have all approached Sergio Ramos about a potential move, ESPN reported.

Ramos, who will leave Madrid as a free agent this off-season, is said to be assessing the interest.

Family considerations are a big part of Ramos' decision-making, while it is claimed City could offer him a two-year deal.

ROUND-UP

- Jose Mourinho's new club Roma are closing in on a deal to sign Wolves' Portuguese goalkeeper Rui Patricio , reports Sky Sports.

- Arsenal target Aaron Ramsey has opted to stay with Juventus following the appointment of Massimiliano Allegri, claims The Sun.

- Uruguayan prospect Martin Satriano is attracting attention from Premier League clubs Arsenal , Everton and Tottenham , claims the Daily Mail. Satriano is currently on the books of Inter.

- Turkey international Merih Demiral wants to leave Juventus but the Serie A club have set an asking price of €40million (£34m), according to Calciomercato.

- Chelsea are close to agreeing a loan deal with Norwich City for Billy Gilmour , reports Sky Sports.

The Premier League fixture release for the 2021-22 has thrown up some intriguing opening-day clashes.

Champions Manchester City head to Tottenham, with the future of Harry Kane and speculation over which club he might be representing by August 14 still up in the air.

Arsenal are at newly promoted Brentford, while there is a familiar feel to Liverpool travelling to Championship winners Norwich City.

Manchester United v Leeds United is very much in the conversation when it comes to what might be the pick of the initial games, while Chelsea's quest to add domestic dominance to European glory begins against Crystal Palace.

Here, with help from Opta, Stats Perform looks at some of the landmark numbers thrown up by the big kick-off and who might be gunning for a piece of history this time around.

Chelsea to soar against the Eagles?

Still without a manager and facing a close season of extensive squad turnover, Palace certainly have a daunting assignment in prospect at Stamford Bridge against Thomas Tuchel's Champions League winners.

Chelsea boast the biggest opening-day win in Premier League history, a 6-0 thrashing of West Brom in August 2010.

That result replaced the previous most emphatic triumph by Liverpool, who won 6-1 away from home back in 1994. Their opponents? Crystal Palace.

Klopp and Salah send out another welcome party

For a third consecutive season, Liverpool will face a promoted team in their first match of the campaign, having thumped Norwich 4-1 at Anfield in 2019-20 before sharing a 4-3 thriller with Leeds last time around.

Mohamed Salah fired a hat-trick against Marcelo Bielsa's men – the ninth opening-day treble in the competition – and was also on target versus the Canaries.

Salah's six goals on the first weekend place him joint third in the Premier League's all-time standings, level with Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Alan Shearer (eight) have more matchday one goals than any other player.

Rooney's five assists leave him out in front on 13 goal involvements, ahead of Shearer and Teddy Sheringham (10).

More capital punishment from Sterling?

Alongside Salah, Raheem Sterling is the only other active Premier League star to have an opening-day hat-trick to his name, having claimed the matchball in Manchester City's 5-0 win at West Ham in 2019.

Overall, the England winger has five goals and two assists on matchday one, and Pep Guardiola's side will be looking to continue a habit of making flying starts.

City have won all of their opening day fixtures in Guardiola's previous five seasons in charge. Indeed, they have won each of their past 10 games on the opening weekend, dating back to a 4-0 triumph over newly promoted Swansea City in 2011.

However, the last time they failed to take an initial three points was in a 0-0 draw at Spurs in 2010. Additionally, in three visits to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions since its 2019 opening, City have suffered three defeats and failed to score a goal.

Gunners must keep cool to avoid Bees sting

History is to repeat itself on a historic day for Brentford. Arsenal's visit will be their first top-flight game for 74 years, since a 1-0 defeat to the Gunners in May 1947.

Thomas Frank might be able to count on ill-discipline afflicting Mikel Arteta's side if Arsenal's previous efforts are anything to go by.

No team in Premier League history has collected as many as the north London club's six opening-day red cards, one more than Charlton Athletic – a fairly remarkable return given the Addicks were relegated in 2007 and are yet to return.

Aston Villa have confirmed the signing of Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City in a club-record transfer.

The Midlands club saw off competition from Arsenal to sign the 24-year-old for a fee believed to be in the region of £35million with a further £5m of add-ons also included in the deal.

Reacting to the news, Villa manager Dean Smith told the club's official website: "Emiliano has just completed an outstanding season in a Championship-winning Norwich side with 31 combined goals and assists and was named Player of the Season across the league.

"He is equally capable as a wide attacker or as a number 10 and is a great addition to our attacking options. We are delighted to have made such an exciting signing so early in the summer and look forward to Emi joining up with us for a full pre-season."

As Smith alludes to, Buendia was named Championship Player of the Year for his part in Norwich's successful promotion a year after dropping down from the top flight.

And, while £35m may sound like a significant fee for a player whose most recent campaign was in the second tier, it is easy to see why Buendia has commanded such an outlay.

Impressive despite relegation

When Norwich were relegated last year, it was a widely held belief that they had several players who were likely to stay in the Premier League by joining other teams.

While Ben Godfrey was sold for approximately £25m to Everton and Jamal Lewis moved to Newcastle United, Norwich managed to keep hold of their other major assets: Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and, perhaps crucially, Buendia.

That they were able to resist the sale of Buendia was arguably the most surprising of all, considering he had enjoyed a promising debut campaign in the Premier League.

His ability to find and exploit pockets of space made him a real creative nuisance and something of an anomaly as well, given he – a player in a relegated team – was up there with the league's best in key creative metrics

 

Buendia created 55 shooting opportunities in open play in 2019-20, a figure that only Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Sadio Mane could better. He was level with Mohamed Salah and ahead of Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, among others.

His seven assists, only one of which came from a set-piece situation, was another notable feat, and his 6.2 expected assists (xA) figure suggests he was not benefiting from astonishing luck throughout the season either. He was simply a very effective creator.

Learning on the job

It would have been easy to write Buendia's Premier League season off as a fluke. There must have been those expecting him to endure a disappointing 2020-21 back in the Championship, perhaps a consequence of not getting a move away.

After all, he did have a spell out of the Norwich team in 2019-20, with Norwich boss Daniel Farke suggesting there were concerns over his work rate and lack of goals.

"Believe me there is probably no-one here in this room who knows [better] how good Emi is and how big his potential is," Farke said in February 2020. "If he is just there with 95 per cent [effort] then it was definitely possible to bring him back [into the team] at Championship level and he could still make the difference.

"But at this [Premier League] level, let's be honest when he is not 100 prepared — you could realise it at Newcastle when we brought him in. Not to accuse him but our game looked poorer when we brought him in.

 

"When I think about his ability to assist, he is already there with seven. It is perhaps not world class on this level for a winger, but for our level it is top class and it is the best of all our players in these terms. Let's be honest, we've had the 26th game day and he is there with no goals. There are several losses of the ball and also sometimes he lacks running in behind."

But Buendia stuck around, seemingly accepting he still had plenty to learn, and his improvement in front of goal has been notable.

In the Premier League he averaged just 1.46 shots per game, but he has more than doubled that frequency to three every 90 minutes in the Championship, likely a consequence of the fact he has spent more time in the central areas of the pitch and closer to the penalty area.

 

As a result, his goals haul shot up from one to 15 and his xG of 11.8 shows that, while he may have been lucky on occasions, he would still have expected to reach double figures. Even if you take into consideration the drop in quality from the Premier League to the Championship, that is still a commendable improvement and highlights his willingness to take on criticism and use it to better himself.

Creating his own luck?

Buendia's even greater tendency to work centrally seemed to benefit his creative talents as well. As shown in his xA map, many of his 16 assists came from the middle vertical of the attacking half.

 

Granted, he has outperformed his 9.3 xA (open play) by approximately seven, which is significant and suggests some of those assists have benefited from particularly good finishing or a slice of fortune, yet his overall xA of 12.4 is still at least four more than any other player in the Championship this term.

Similarly, his 93 key passes in open play was – remarkably – 31 more than anyone else in the division.

 

It will be intriguing to see what role Buendia is deployed in at Villa and whether both he and Grealish are compatible in the same side. Even if they line up on opposite flanks, they will want to do much of their work in similar areas as they drift inside.

But regardless of any potential teething issues, Buendia looks set to be another smart acquisition by Villa – and potentially the one who got away for Arsenal.

Aston Villa have reached an agreement to sign Emiliano Buendia from Norwich City.

Reports over the weekend suggested Villa had a £33million offer, which could reach a total value of £40m, accepted by promoted side Norwich.

Arsenal had also pursued Buendia, but it is Villa who have confirmed they are poised to sign the Championship's Player of the Year in a deal that is a club-record signing for them and the highest ever sale for Norwich.

Villa's statement on Monday read: "Aston Villa and Norwich City have reached an agreement for the transfer of Emiliano Buendia.

"As Emiliano is currently in the Argentina national team's biosecure bubble, preparing for a World Cup qualifying match with Colombia on Tuesday evening, he will undergo a medical and complete the transfer after the game."

Playmaker Buendia, 24, played a major role in Norwich's return to the Premier League, racking up 15 goals and 16 assists in the Championship and recently earned his first Argentina call-up.

He provided seven assists the year before in a productive top-flight season, even though Norwich were ultimately relegated.

Norwich have also confirmed the transfer will go through pending a successful medical for Buendia.

Their statement read: "Norwich City can confirm that a club-record deal has been agreed with Aston Villa for the transfer of Emi Buendia.

"Buendia will complete his final medical checks following the conclusion of Argentina's World Cup qualifying fixture against Colombia on Tuesday evening.

"Final confirmation of the transfer will follow upon completion of the player's medical."

Fantastic figures

Buendia created 55 shooting opportunities in open play in the 2019-20 Premier League season, a figure that only Kevin De Bruyne, potential new team-mate Jack Grealish and Sadio Mane could better.

He was level with Mohamed Salah and ahead of Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, among others.

His seven assists, only one of which came from a set-piece situation, was another notable feat, and his 6.2 expected assists (xA) figure suggests he wasn't benefiting from astonishing luck throughout the season either. 

 

Buendia added to his game in the Championship. In the Premier League he averaged just 1.46 shots per game, but he more than doubled that frequency to three every 90 minutes in the second tier, likely a consequence of the fact he has spent more time in the central areas of the pitch and closer to the penalty area.

As a result, his goals haul shot up from one to 15 and his xG (expected goals) of 11.8 shows that, while he may have scored more than the quality of his chances warranted, he would still have expected to reach double figures. 

Buendia had 16 assists, above his overall xA of 12.4, which was still at least four more than any other player in the Championship in 2020-21. 

Similarly, his 93 key passes in open play was – remarkably – 31 more than anyone else in the division.

 

Long gone are the days when Arsenal attracted the world's best talents, it seems, as the Gunners are reportedly set to miss out on one of their primary targets to Aston Villa.

Emi Buendia is, according to widespread reports, about to join Aston Villa from Norwich City in a deal worth in the region of £35million, a club-record purchase and sale for the two teams.

Arsenal have been linked with numerous players to fill a creative void, with Martin Odegaard and Dani Ceballos returning to Real Madrid after their respective loan spells.

Buendia had seemingly emerged as an attainable option for the Gunners, with the Argentinian – who recently received his first senior international call-up – always likely to leave Carrow Road after playing a major role in their return to the Premier League.

A creative talent capable of opening up defences with his passing and dribbling abilities, Buendia was named Championship Player of the Year for his part in Norwich's successful promotion a year after dropping down from the top flight.

While £35m may sound like a significant fee for a player whose most recent campaign was in the second tier, it is easy to see why Buendia is set to command such an outlay for Villa.

Impressive despite relegation

When Norwich were relegated last year, it was a widely held belief that they had several players who were likely to stay in the Premier League by joining other teams.

While Ben Godfrey was sold for approximately £25m to Everton and Jamal Lewis moved to Newcastle United, Norwich managed to keep hold of their other major assets: Todd Cantwell, Max Aarons and, perhaps crucially, Buendia.

That they were able to resist the sale of Buendia was arguably the most surprising of all, considering he had enjoyed a promising debut campaign in the Premier League.

His ability to find and exploit pockets of space made him a real creative nuisance and something of an anomaly as well, given he – a player in a relegated team – was up there with the league's best in key creative metrics

Buendia created 55 shooting opportunities in open play in 2019-20, a figure that only Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Sadio Mane could better. He was level with Mohamed Salah and ahead of Roberto Firmino, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva, among others.

His seven assists, only one of which came from a set-piece situation, was another notable feat, and his 6.2 expected assists (xA) figure suggests he wasn't benefiting from astonishing luck throughout the season either. He was simply a very effective creator.

Learning on the job

It would have been easy to write Buendia's Premier League season off as a fluke. There must have been those expecting him to endure a disappointing 2020-21 back in the Championship, perhaps a consequence of not getting a move away.

After all, he did have a spell out of the Norwich team in 2019-20, with Norwich boss Daniel Farke suggesting there were concerns over his work rate and lack of goals.

"Believe me there is probably no-one here in this room who knows [better] how good Emi is and how big his potential is," Farke said in February 2020. "If he is just there with 95 per cent [effort] then it was definitely possible to bring him back [into the team] at Championship level and he could still make the difference.

"But at this [Premier League] level, let's be honest when he is not 100 prepared — you could realise it at Newcastle when we brought him in. Not to accuse him but our game looked poorer when we brought him in.

"When I think about his ability to assist, he is already there with seven. It is perhaps not world class on this level for a winger, but for our level it is top class and it is the best of all our players in these terms. Let's be honest, we've had the 26th game day and he is there with no goals. There are several losses of the ball and also sometimes he lacks running in behind."

But Buendia stuck around, seemingly accepting he still had plenty to learn, and his improvement in front of goal has been notable.

In the Premier League he averaged just 1.46 shots per game, but he has more than doubled that frequency to three every 90 minutes in the Championship, likely a consequence of the fact he has spent more time in the central areas of the pitch and closer to the penalty area.

As a result, his goals haul shot up from one to 15 and his xG of 11.8 shows that, while he may have been lucky on occasions, he would still have expected to reach double figures. Even if you take into consideration the drop in quality from the Premier League to the Championship, that is still a commendable improvement and highlights his willingness to take on criticism and use it to better himself.

Creating his own luck?

Buendia's even greater tendency to work centrally seemed to benefit his creative talents as well. As shown in his xA map, many of his 16 assists came from the middle vertical of the attacking half.

Granted, he has outperformed his 9.3 xA (open play) by approximately seven, which is significant and suggests some of those assists have benefited from particularly good finishing or a slice of fortune, yet his overall xA of 12.4 is still at least four more than any other player in the Championship this term.

Similarly, his 93 key passes in open play was – remarkably – 31 more than anyone else in the division.

It will be intriguing to see what role Buendia is deployed in at Villa and whether both he and Grealish are compatible in the same side. Even if they line up on opposite flanks, they will want to do much of their work in similar areas as they drift inside.

But regardless of any potential teething issues, Buendia looks set to be another smart acquisition by Villa – and potentially the one who got away for Arsenal.

Neymar's future at Paris Saint-Germain remains strangely undecided.

The 29-year-old Brazilian has said he is happy in Paris but speculation continues to bubble away.

Neymar is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly discussing a renewal with PSG until 2026.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR TEMPTED BY BARCELONA RETURN

Neymar continues to flirt privately with a return to Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Publicly, the Brazil star has declared he is happy with PSG but in no rush to re-sign, yet there are behind-the-scenes rumblings, potentially part of contract manoeuvring.

Neymar is reportedly obsessed with playing alongside Lionel Messi again at Camp Nou and continues to keep that option open.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are still in the market for a right-winger with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho top of their list, according to 90 Min.

- The Sun reports that Chelsea are preparing to launch a £90million-plus offer to bring Romelu Lukaku back to the club from Inter.

- Chelsea are also open to offers for forward Tammy Abraham this off-season, with an asking price of £40m, claims The Telegraph.

- Arsenal wants to sign Norwich City full-back Max Aarons as a replacement for Hector Bellerin, whom they are prepared to offload, reports 90 Min.

- Juventus' Turkish defender Merih Demiral is in the sights of Everton, according to Calciomercato.

- AS claims that Atletico Madrid may ask Juventus to swap Paulo Dybala as compensation to permanently sign on-loan forward Alvaro Morata.

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