Lionel Messi's future is a popular topic.

Messi wanted to leave Barcelona at the start of the season but opted to remain at Camp Nou.

With his contract expiring at the end of 2020-21, the Barca superstar is continuing to make headlines.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI WAITING ON BARCA

Barcelona have yet to make a move to re-sign superstar captain Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Marca.

Messi is out of contract at the end of the season and his future is far from certain, having been tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.

Led by new president Joan Laporta, Barca are determined to retain the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

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- Mundo Deportivo reports Ousmane Dembele wants to continue with Barca, but speculation is mounting that Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar could return to Camp Nou. Neymar – who left Barca for PSG in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 – has been negotiating a new contract in the French capital. Dembele has previously been linked with Manchester United.

Manchester City are eyeing a new striker but they are unwilling to spend "crazy" money, claims Fabrizio Romano. With Sergio Aguero – linked with Chelsea, Inter, PSG and Barcelona – leaving on a free transfer, Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland has emerged as City's prime target, while Tottenham star Harry Kane is another option.

- Goal says Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli and Juventus' Federico Bernardeschi could swap clubs. Both players have struggled this season and they could reportedly be involved in an exchange deal. Romagnoli has attracted interest from Barca and Chelsea.

- Eurosport reports United and Liverpool could go head-to-head in a battle to sign RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. The 21-year-old has been heavily linked with Liverpool, but United are also interested. Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Villarreal's Pau Torres and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly are also reportedly being monitored at Old Trafford.

- Romano claims there are "huge chances" for Hector Bellerin to leave Arsenal. The Spaniard was previously linked with PSG and Barca.

David de Gea's future at Manchester United has been the topic of conversation for months.

The situation has become muddied in recent weeks during the Spaniard's period of paternity leave but De Gea is back in England and playing second fiddle to Dean Henderson.

De Gea has been at Old Trafford since 2011 but United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started Henderson for seven games in a row.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA TO EXIT UNITED

De Gea's representatives are already sounding out potential buyers and he is set to leave Manchester United this off-season, according to the Daily Mail.

The 30-year-old is contracted with the Red Devils although no transfer fee has been mentioned yet.

The report claims Real MadridParis Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are potentially interested clubs.

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- ESPN reports Barcelona will continue to pursue Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland but a source has said a deal will be "very difficult".

- Tottenham defender Juan Foyth is on loan at Villarreal this season and the Spanish club want to sign him permanently for less than the €15.3million (£13m) option fee, according to Football Insider.

Jerome Boateng will leave Bayern Munich as a free agent at the end of this season with the club opting not to offer him a new contract, reports Kicker.

- Sky Sports are claiming that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ready to ink a one-year extension with Milan.

It was hardly the sort of entrance that said "I'm here to save the day". Luka Modric was still putting his headband on as he rather leisurely entered the Old Trafford pitch just a few moments after Nani's controversial sending off in the Champions League last-16 second leg between Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Los Blancos were down 2-1 on aggregate after a Sergio Ramos own goal had put United in the driving seat a short while earlier, but with the hosts a man light, Jose Mourinho sent Modric on as Madrid looked to suffocate Alex Ferguson's men.

Alongside Xabi Alonso, Modric was swiftly into the thick of it as Madrid tried to pull United this way and that, and he soon took matters into his own hands with Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo unable to break through.

Allowed space just outside the United area, Modric's motioning for a shot lured Michael Carrick out of position and the Croatian easily breezed past him before lashing an unstoppable effort in off the right-hand post just seven minutes after coming on.

It was only his second goal for the club, but as it spurred Madrid on to seal a 2-1 win and a spot in the next round thanks, Modric has regarded that match as the turning point in his career at the Santiago Bernabeu.

A perfect storm

It's easy to forget how disappointing Modric's first season at Madrid was deemed to be. After all, before Christmas, he was voted as the worst signing of the campaign in a Marca poll, beating Alex Song of Barcelona to top the charts.

Two years Modric's junior, Song has been playing his football in Djibouti this season; Modric remains, at the ripe old age of 35, arguably the finest midfielder in Spain.

There are certainly comparisons to be made with Thiago Alcantara's first season in England, with Liverpool struggling to even maintain a challenge for the top four, let alone defend their title.

Thiago was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle, the sort of central midfielder that balanced flair with genuine playmaking abilities, unlike anyone already in the squad. It was said his arrival would enable to Liverpool to play with greater flexibility, but the reality has been a little different.

Teams are playing deeper against Liverpool, as evidenced by the fact their shots outside the area per game is up from 4.6 per game to 5.2, while they are being allowed 190.4 passes in the final third each match, up from 180.9. Opponents are more confident they can keep Liverpool out if they defend deep.

Of course, Liverpool's issues this term are plentiful – injuries have been particularly frequent, and Thiago himself has lost a significant chunk of the season in this regard.

But even when he has been fit, it's difficult to say the Spain international has transformed the Reds. In fact, they have a better league win percentage (57.1) when he doesn't play than when he does (37.5), while they tend to score more goals (2.4 per game, compared to 1.1 when he is playing).

One theory for Thiago's struggles has been his apparent lack of comfort with Liverpool's intense pressing style, but the data suggests that to be a red herring.

Granted, Liverpool do engage in 18.9 pressed sequences – instances where the opposition have three or fewer passes in a move, which ends within 40 metres of their own goal – per game, with their total of 567 the most in the Premier League this term.

But Bayern averaged 16.9 per game in 2019-20 and led the way in the Bundesliga in this regard. Meanwhile, they allowed 9.8 opposition passes per defensive action, with Liverpool's PPDA this term 10.7, showing the Bayern side Thiago played in wasn't too dissimilar.

So, why would Liverpool's off-the-ball intensity impact him so much? It seems far more likely the issue is simply that he's in the middle of a perfect storm of settling into new surroundings and a new team during an injury crisis that has impacted him as well.

Changing perception

Fans can forget that players are people first and foremost. Upheaval off the pitch can have a demonstrable effect on it – of course it can, just like life at home can impact the job performance of average Joe.

This was a key element for Modric, who explained how he found it difficult to settle in initially at Real Madrid, not only because as a club they are an entirely different beast to Tottenham but also as he didn't have a pre-season and gaining fitness was always likely to be a struggle when playing catch-up.

As for fan expectations, perhaps there was also a degree of misunderstanding from Madrid supporters. Maybe they were initially expecting something more than Modric.

After all, in his final season at Spurs, Modric was a key creator. His 96 key passes in 2011-12 was bettered by only two midfielders in the Premier League (David Silva – 104, Juan Mata – 103), evidence that much of the creative burden was on his shoulders.

So, perhaps the fact his creative ingenuity wasn't being so frequently displayed at Madrid coloured opinion.

Granted, his 17 key passes in 13 league appearances between the start of the season and January 1 left a lot to be desired, but his end-of-season record of 56 was the third-highest in the Madrid squad.

Time, patience and trust were seemingly key to Modric establishing himself, but to suggest he's played the same way at Madrid as in his best season at Spurs would be incorrect – the closest he's ever got to that 96 key passes haul since was 61 in 2015-16.

In fact, when you consider a whole range of his key metrics such as passes, pass completion, chance creation, touches of the ball and defensive areas, there hasn't been drastic fluctuation between 2012-13 and now.

Certainly, his 62.6 successful passes per 90 is up from 55 in 2012-13, while his touches have improved from 80 to 86.7, but those differences certainly aren't major. The fact is his figures have been pretty steady throughout his time in LaLiga.

But at 35, he has still played in 28 of Madrid's 29 league matches this term. He's arguably more important to them than ever before.

Coming back from being a target of ridicule to becoming a club great and winning the Ballon d'Or speaks to Modric's attitude and talent, but also serves as inspiration for Thiago.

While the Spaniard has not had to contend with quite the same level of criticism, there are certainly those unconvinced by him.

With a full pre-season under his belt and allowed to gel into a settled team that isn't constantly being chopped and changed due to injuries, Thiago can surely enjoy a sparkling second season at Liverpool. After all, the data proves the Reds' pressing shouldn't be a long-term issue for him given how Bayern played.

A 25-yard strike of his own against Manchester United would go down very well right now, although a similarly decisive impact against Madrid would surely be a nice compromise for the Barcelona product.

The Premier League made its comeback this weekend, and there was no shortage of drama on Sunday.

It was a tail of turnarounds throughout the four fixtures – three sides coming from behind to win while Newcastle United and Tottenham played out a topsy turvy 2-2 draw.

Manchester United needed a late goal to see off Brighton and Hove Albion, while Southampton and Aston Villa claimed victories.

United have now won 95 Premier League points after conceding first, seven more than any other team in the history of the competition and, using Opta data, we take a look at more of the best facts from across the day's matches.

Southampton 3-2 Burnley: Ings puts former club to the sword in thrilling fightback 

Southampton picked up their first Premier League home win since their opening game in 2021 as they came from two goals down to beat Burnley 3-2, ending a run of five league outings at St. Mary's without a victory (D1 L4).

The Saints had not won a league game that they had trailed in by two goals since March 2016, when they defeated Liverpool under Ronald Koeman, but Danny Ings inspired the turnaround against his former club.

Having teed up Stuart Armstrong's goal, Ings became just the fourth player in Premier League history to score in four successive appearances against sides he has previously played for in the competition, after Robbie Keane in 2004, Jermain Defoe in 2009 and Wilfried Bony in 2017.

It was Nathan Redmond who then dealt the decisive blow, volleying in from Theo Walcott's cross after Nick Pope had brilliantly denied Ings a second.

Redmond has been directly involved in five goals in his past two games for Southampton (three goals and two assists), as many direct goal involvements as he had registered in his previous 30 appearances in all competitions combined.

Chris Wood gave Burnley the lead from a VAR-awarded penalty – the 100th spot-kick taken in the top flight this season, and the 83rd to be converted. This is only the seventh Premier League campaign to see a century of penalties awarded.

Newcastle United 2-2 Tottenham: Kane double not enough as Spurs let another lead slip

Tottenham looked set to move into the top four as they led 2-1 at Newcastle – Harry Kane's double putting them ahead after Joelinton carried on his goalscoring form against Spurs; he has now netted a total of four Premier League goals in 62 appearances, with two of those coming in four matches versus the north London team.

Kane has been directly involved in 45 goals in all competitions this term, scoring 29 times and providing 16 assists, equalling his career-best tally from 2017-18 (41 goals and four assists).

He has also scored 84 goals in 120 away games in the Premier League for Spurs, the most goals any player has scored on the road for a single club in the competition, going past Wayne Rooney's 82 for Manchester United.

Yet his efforts were not enough – Joe Willock rescuing a point for relegation-battling Newcastle, who have drawn three consecutive Premier League games at St. James' Park for the first time since another three-game run spanning December 2017 and January 2018.

Tottenham have dropped four points from winning positions against Newcastle this season, their most in a campaign against a single side since also dropping four versus Arsenal and West Brom in 2015-16, while Spurs have now failed to win six Premier League games after leading at half-time, the most of any side in 2020-21.

Aston Villa 3-1 Fulham: History made at Villa Park before Cottagers collapse

Sunday's clash between Aston Villa and Fulham was the first game in Premier League history in which every player in the starting XI for both sides was born after the first ever Premier League game on August 15, 1992.

Despite Dean Smith saying he would be available, Jack Grealish was not in Villa's squad, and Fulham hit the front through Aleksandar Mitrovic, who – after 159 days and 23 games without a goal for club and country – has now scored six times in the past 12 days, five times for Serbia and once for the Cottagers.

Yet only Southampton (18) and Brighton (20) have dropped more points from winning positions in the Premier League this season than Fulham (16) after Scott Parker's third-bottom side suffered a collapse.

Trezeguet scored a rapid double – his two goals coming just 160 seconds apart. The Egypt international had previously attempted more shots without scoring than any other player in this season's Premier League (29).

Ollie Watkins helped himself to his first league goal in eight games, ending a run of 18 shots without a goal in the competition since netting versus Arsenal in February.

Manchester United 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Matchwinner Greenwood in elite company

Only Wayne Rooney (15) and Marcus Rashford (13) have scored more Premier League goals as teenagers for United than Mason Greenwood (12), who struck late on to complete the turnaround at Old Trafford.

Former Red Devil Danny Welbeck opened the scoring in Sunday's final game – he became the first player to net as many as three Premier League goals against United after having appeared for the club in the competition.

The 2020-21 season is only the second to see two players who have previously appeared for Manchester United in the Premier League score against them (Wilfried Zaha and Welbeck), along with the 1997-98 campaign, when Dion Dublin and Mark Hughes did so.

But United have now won 25 points from losing positions this term, nine more than any other side, while Brighton remain winless at Old Trafford in 13 attempts in all competitions (D2 L11).

Rashford – who has only scored more league goals (five) against Leicester City than he has against the Seagulls – equalised after being teed up by Bruno Fernandes, who has been directly involved in five goals in three Premier League appearances against Brighton.

Jose Mourinho has put Tottenham's inability to hold onto leads down to individual mistakes made by his players, rather than his own managerial ability. 

Harry Kane's quickfire double put Spurs 2-1 ahead at half-time in Sunday's Premier League clash with Newcastle United after Joelinton had opened the scoring.

That is how the game remained until five minutes from time when Arsenal loanee Joe Willock fired in an equaliser, just 52 seconds after Kane hit the post at the other end.

Spurs have now failed to win six Premier League games this season in which they have led at the interval – the most of any side – as they missed out on a place in the top four, but Mourinho insists his players only have themselves to blame for their latest setback.

"I am frustrated. We needed to win the match and we came to win," he told BBC Sport. "We were not far from winning it but, at the same time, we created some instability.

"That was down to many individual defensive mistakes that we made. We always gave Newcastle a chance to be in the game.

"Of course, we had the biggest chance of the game to make it 3-1 and kill it, then we concede a goal the next minute."

When it was put to Mourinho that his teams are normally good at holding onto leads, he said: "Same coach, different players."

Spurs would have climbed above Chelsea had they held on, but they instead sit two points off a Champions League spot ahead of next week's clash with Mourinho's former team Manchester United.

Asked if more time is needed to get the best out of his players, Mourinho said: "I don't think so. We work well, we work hard. 

"But there are mistakes which I probably shouldn't even call mistakes because they are related to qualities that players have."

Newcastle managed 22 shots at St James' Park – double that of Tottenham – and had some promising opportunities to score prior to Willock's leveller.

Kane was responsible for seven of Tottenham's 11 shots, but Mourinho felt it was the defensive aspect of his side's game which cost them a fifth win in six league games.

"The Premier League is hard and is high-level football, and when in some actions you don't show that you belong to that high level of football, it's difficult," he said.

"We made defensive mistakes that lead to instability. In the first half we were always in control, even in the second half when we had the ball we didn't have any problems.

"We could've scored a couple more, but in defensive situations we create instability with our mistakes, instability brings hope to our opponent, and our opponent didn't give up. 

"I had the same feeling and I'm on the bench. It's difficult to have the feeling of absolute control because I know that what happened can happen.

"You cannot score three, four, five goals every match. You come away from home and score two goals... we cannot ask for lots of goals every match, many times it's not possible."

Kane took his tally for the season to 19 goals in 28 appearances with his first-half double and admitted to being frustrated that his side failed to see out the victory.

"Whenever you are ahead in a game, as we have been a lot this season, and you give the lead away in the last 5-10 minutes, it's always hard to take," he told BBC Sport.

"I feel like we could have played better in the second half. We were a bit sloppy. We didn't take our chances and got punished for it.

"I think we had some good chances. The final ball, final pass or final touch weren't quite there. That's the fine margins. We need to play better."

Joe Willock scored late on to salvage relegation-threatened Newcastle United a potentially massive point in a 2-2 draw with Tottenham, who missed the chance to go fourth.   At the end of a week in which Harry Kane's future was something of a hot topic, it was only fitting for the England captain to score twice, but they were pegged back in the closing stages as Jose Mourinho's Spurs flattered to deceive again.   Having already gone extremely close to opening the scoring, Newcastle went in front through Joelinton, but six minutes later the home side trailed – Kane's predatory instincts on show as he scored a quick-fire brace.   But less than a minute after Kane hit the post in the second half, Willock – who is on loan from Spurs' bitter rivals Arsenal – blasted in from close range to seal a deserved point for Steve Bruce's men.

This month's EFL Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham at Wembley will be attended by 8,000 spectators as part of a government test event.

The clash was pushed back from its original February 28 date to April 25 in the hope that supporters would be allowed to attend in some capacity.

With less than three weeks to go until the showdown between City and Spurs, the game has been confirmed as a pilot event to test the return of big crowds.

A proportion of tickets will be made available to both Premier League clubs, with the rest given to local residents in Brent and NHS staff.

The plan is to ensure the safe return of mass gatherings as coronavirus lockdown restrictions ease in England.

It has already been announced that 4,000 locals will be present for the FA Cup semi-final between Leicester City and Southampton on April 18, while 21,000 could be in attendance for the FA Cup final on May 15.

Rick Parry, Chair of the EFL, said in a statement on Sunday: "The Carabao Cup is a prized asset of the EFL, a great competition for clubs to win and always a fantastic occasion so we are absolutely delighted to see supporters back for the 2021 final, in what will hopefully be another important milestone along the way to a full return of fans.

"Football has lots of expertise in crowd management so we welcome the opportunity to support the government in its Events Research Programme and will also take great pride in hosting NHS staff at the final to whom we owe so much for their momentous efforts throughout the pandemic.

"The EFL's broad objective has always been to seek fans return to stadia as soon as it is safe to do so and we welcome the opportunity to play our part working collaboratively with Wembley Stadium, local authorities and specialists overseeing the research programme. 

"These collective efforts will be crucial as we seek a return for fans of EFL clubs for the play-offs and start of the 2021-22 season, so that our members can plan with confidence."

The World Snooker Championship, which runs from April 17 to May 3, will be the first sporting event to be included in the trial and up to 1,000 spectators will attend each day.

Harry Kane has been linked with a move away from Tottenham this upcoming transfer window.

But the England forward has another three years on his contract and a deal will not come easy for suitors.

Manchester City are the latest club to be linked with Kane, as they assess their options if they cannot land Erling Haaland this close-season.

 

TOP STORY - TOTTENHAM WARD OFF KANE INTEREST

Tottenham have placed a £175million price tag on Harry Kane amid reports of interest in their star captain.

The Sun has reported Tottenham are unwilling to sell Kane, let alone to a Premier League rival such as City.

Kane is understood be content to stay at Tottenham and the price tag will likely deter any continental interest.

 

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- Real Madrid are willing to sell one Norwegian Martin Odegaard, who is on loan at Arsenal, to generate the funds required to land his compatriot Haaland, according to The Times. The Gunners are understood to be keen to sign Odegaard permanently.

- Barcelona are lining up Inter's Lautaro Martinez as a possible signing if they fail to win the race for Haaland, reports Spanish publication Sport.

- Tuttosport claims that Juventus are readying a move to bring Moise Kean back to Turin from Everton after starring on loan at Paris Saint-Germain.

- Spanish outlet ABC is reporting that both Manchester United and Chelsea are keen on Real Madrid winger Lucas Vazquez.

Tottenham coach Jose Mourinho says he is expecting the upcoming off-season transfer window to be "strange" in light of the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic of football clubs.

Spurs have attracted speculation around potential off-season transfer activity revolving around goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and forward Harry Kane.

Mourinho played down any talk of Kane exiting, insisting they have not spoken about his future and that he expects this off-season to be unusual although he would not be drawn on Spurs' transfer priorities.

"We know what we want, but at the same time we can all expect a strange summer," Mourinho said ahead of Tottenham's Premier League match with Newcastle on Sunday.

"I believe that it is going to be a bit strange in the sense of a different transfer window than in previous seasons, but in this moment I don’t think it is about anyone fighting for his future.

"I think it is about everyone fighting for the points we need to finish the season the best that we can."

Kane is a regular topic of transfer speculation with Manchester City the latest club linked with the England forward.

"No. He works so well every day," Mourinho said when asked if the pair had spoken about his future.

"He is such a professional, committed with the team, performing well. I've nothing to speak with him.

"Three years of his contract [left]. I have nothing to speak with him about. Unless he wants to speak with me about it and until now he never approached me in relation to anything."

On Lloris, who has just over 12 months left on his Tottenham contract, Mourinho added: "You know I don’t want to offend anyone and I hope that people just accept my opinion.

"We have, in my opinion, the best goalkeeper in England and the best English goalkeeper [Joe Hart].

"So I am so happy with that that I don’t think about what can happen or not happen. Hugo has a contract, Joe has a contract. I'm so happy with both."

Jose Mourinho refused to "play that game" as his media conference ahead of Tottenham's clash with Newcastle United was dominated by questions about Harry Kane's future.

Tottenham head into Sunday's meeting at St James' Park knowing they can ill-afford a slip-up against the relegation-threatened Magpies as they pursue a place in the Premier League's top four and Champions League qualification.

Despite their position in the table - sixth, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea - talisman Kane, rather than a return to Europe's elite club competition, was the primary topic of conversation as Mourinho spoke with reporters.

Kane is under contract until 2024 but has recently said he will not decide his future until after this year's rescheduled European Championship, for which England are among the favourites.

He was on target in England's wins over Albania and Poland as the Three Lions followed up an emphatic victory over San Marino to take maximum points from their opening 2022 World Cup qualifying fixtures.

Kane netted in his last game for Spurs, a 2-0 win at Aston Villa, and Mourinho is more interested in him replicating that display rather than any talk about a possible transfer.

"I cannot play that game," he replied when asked about speculation surrounding Kane. 

"I have to focus on what he is for us, of course I'm always pleased when my players go to national teams and they do well.

"I'm happy he does well for England, but I cannot play that game of what the people say, doesn't say. I focus on what he did for us in the last match against Villa, I focus on the effort that I saw him put on the pitch for England and I focus on the match against Newcastle, he will be there for the team and that's where I have to focus.

"I don't know if he always has a smile, I know that he is professional. I'm very pleased to have him and I repeat I'm happy to see him and all the other guys when they go to national teams, when they do well, come back after a positive result.

"He's living a good period, he's doing well for club and country. Ahead of him until the end of the season he has nice challenges, a [EFL Cup] final, a Premier League to fight for every point then he has a Euros with a possibility to play a final at Wembley. He has to be happy with the moment he's living.

"I want Harry to be with us. I want Harry to repeat against Newcastle the same performance that he had against Aston Villa. The same commitment, same desire, same team spirit, leadership, that's what I want. I know that I'm going to have that."

Kane will likely have Son Heung-min back for company on Spurs' forward line against Newcastle, Mourinho confirming the South Korea star is fit enough to be selected having not played since sustaining a thigh injury in the North London derby defeat to Arsenal on March 14.

"[Son] is good. He will be selected. He was injured, he trained with the team fully for the first time this morning," added Mourinho. 

"Yesterday he was coming to do partial exercises, not a complete session. This morning was the first day he did it. Last week he didn't train at all, it was impossible for him to play international. It would be impossible if the game was yesterday.

"This time was a good time for him to recover from injury. In this moment we have [Matt] Doherty and Ben Davies out, apart from that, everyone is fit to play."

Premier League stars have returned to their clubs after international duty and now we enter perhaps the most intense stretch of the season.

Will your fantasy league players last the distance or are some showing signs of flagging already? Perhaps the World Cup qualifiers gave you an idea of which stars could deliver for their clubs in the race for those top-four places.

Can Timo Werner rally after his awful miss in Germany's defeat to North Macedonia, or should you look elsewhere for Chelsea players after the Blues' stunning start under Thomas Tuchel.

Our Opta-powered fantasy picks should provide some food for thought ahead of the 30th round of games this weekend.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea, who play West Brom, have shipped just two goals in 10 Premier League games since former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel arrived, with the German boss making the London side come good on the potential they showed fleetingly during Frank Lampard's reign.

Goalkeeper Mendy had already looked a shrewd addition and he owns the best save percentage (77.4 per cent) among Premier League goalkeepers in 2021. Only Manchester City's Ederson has conceded fewer goals per game this year among keepers with a minimum of 300 minutes of action. Mendy has conceded seven in 12 games at an average of 0.58, while Ederson has been beaten eight times in 15 matches for a 0.53 average since the turn of the year.

LUKE SHAW

Impressed by Luke Shaw's return to England favour? Wait until you hear what he's been achieving at club level. Shaw's Manchester United form has been a sensational second coming for the player who first caught the eye as a teenager with club and country, and he will look to impress against Brighton on Sunday.

The former Southampton left-back has been directly involved in more goals (one goal, four assists) in 2021 than any other Premier League defender, with his 36 chances created making Shaw a clear leader in that field too. Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (24 chances created) sits a distant second on the list.

CESAR AZPILICUETA

Already emerging as a favourite of Tuchel, Azpilicueta has played his part in nine clean sheets with Chelsea in 12 Premier League appearances since the start of the year. That is more than any other defender has managed in the competition across that period of time.

The 31-year-old club captain is leading by example and West Brom's attackers will have their work cut out against the former Marseille defender this weekend. Team-mate Antonio Rudiger, who has played 11 league games in 2021, is one of four players in the top flight to have played a part in eight clean sheets this year.

RIYAD MAHREZ

Leicester City know all about Mahrez and his wily ways on the wing, but whether they can stop the Manchester City star on Saturday is perhaps another matter.

The Algerian, who was a Premier League winner with the Foxes, has been involved in 11 goals in his last 13 Premier League starts (eight goals, three assists). Across his last three league games against Leicester, he has managed two goals and two assists.

SADIO MANE

Could the international break prove to be just the interruption that last year's flagging champions Liverpool needed? Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and co will hope to resume on a positive note when Jurgen Klopp's men tackle Arsenal at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

Five of Mane's seven Premier League goals for Liverpool this season have come away from home, with four of those coming in London – this is his only Premier League campaign so far where he has scored more goals away than at home. The Senegalese has also scored seven Premier League goals against Arsenal, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10). Two of those have come away at Arsenal, including one in a 2-1 defeat last July.

HARRY KANE

In need of a fix of guaranteed points? Tough, they don't exist. But Kane would be close to the top of any all-time list of the Premier League's most reliable scorers, and he already has 17 goals and 13 assists for Tottenham in the competition this season.

Across all competitions, Kane has been involved in 43 goals in 40 games this term (27 goals, 16 assists), and in terms of involvements that haul is just two short of his best ever season in his senior career (41 goals and four assists in 2017-18). Tottenham go to Newcastle on Sunday, with Kane looking to add to the three league goals he has previously bagged at St James' Park.

Lionel Messi has been tipped to leave Barcelona for either Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

But Haaland could reportedly unlock Messi's future.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND TO CITY MEANS BARCA STAY FOR MESSI?

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could hold the key to Lionel Messi's future at Barcelona, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Barca, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

City have been tipped to sign Messi, but should they step up their pursuit of Haaland, the Premier League leaders could reportedly drop their interest in the Barca captain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Mundo Deportivo says new Barca president Joan Laporta is preparing a contract renewal for Messi, who is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- Bayern Munich are eyeing a move for Tottenham star Son Heung-min, claims Football Insider. Son has reportedly been offered a bumper new contract by Spurs, but the former Bayer Leverkusen forward is wanted in Munich.

- Sporting CP's Joao Palhinha, Borussia Monchengladbach star Denis Zakaria and Sander Berge of Sheffield United are on the list of midfielders to replace City veteran Fernandinho, reports A Bola.

- Gazzetta dello Sport says Juventus and Barca are interested in Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli. The Italy defender is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly seeking a €6million-a-year contract.

Napoli are eyeing Lazio head coach Simone Inzaghi and sporting director Igli Tare, claims Radio Kiss Kiss Napoli. Gennaro Gattuso has been tipped to leave Napoli at the end of the season, with ex-Juve boss Massimiliano Allegri, Luciano Spalletti and Hellas Verona's Ivan Juric among the possible replacements. But Lazio duo Inzaghi and Tare are being monitored to replace Gattuso and Cristiano Giuntoli in Naples.

United are interested in Lille defender Sven Botman, according to Fabrizio Romano. Sevilla star Jules Kounde has been on United's radar but the club's asking price of €80m (£68m) is too steep.

- Romano also says there is no agreement with United and Paul Pogba over a new contract. Pogba has been linked with former club Juve, Madrid and PSG.

Manchester City will turn to Harry Kane if they cannot land Erling Haaland.

It is widely expected City will go hard to sign the Norway striker, who is being pursued by numerous big clubs.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea are all interested in the Borussia Dortmund man.

 

TOP STORY - KANE IN CITY'S SIGHTS

The Times reports that if City fail to win the race for Haaland's signature they will consider making an offer for Tottenham talisman Kane.

Kane is seven years older than Haaland but has a proven Premier League goal scoring record.

City have already confirmed Sergio Aguero's exit at the end of the season and are in the market to bolster their forward ranks.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail is reporting that City's main priorities in the transfer market are to sign Haaland and Aston Villa playmaker Jack Grealish, as they turn to a younger generation of talent. The duo are expected to cost £200 million.

- Football Insider has reported Lionel Messi has requested FC Barcelona sign countryman Aguero as part of his own negotiations to stay with the Catalans. Mundo Deportivo claims Aguero is not a priority signing for Barca, with Memphis Depay, Romelu Lukaku and Haaland top of the list.

- Gianluigi Donnarumma has been linked with a host of big clubs and Sky Sport Italia are reporting that contract talks with AC Milan are at a standstill. Milan are allegedly offering €7million per-year deal but the goalkeeper wants more.

- Voetbalkrant are reporting Southampton are interested in Anderlecht's teenage defender Marco Kana.

- Ex-Borussia Dortmund and Hertha Berlin coach Lucien Favre is interested in becoming Celtic's new coach, according to the Daily Mail.

- Fichajes reports Leeds United's Rodrigo is unhappy in England and wants to return to Spain, with Real Betis and Sevilla in the mix.

Wales captain Gareth Bale would support a boycott of social media sites unless greater action is taken to combat online abuse.

International team-mates Ben Cabango and Rabbi Matondo were victims of racism following the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico last Saturday.

The Football Association of Wales (FAW) said it was "disgusted" by the abuse and urged social media platforms and regulators to take "stronger, more effective and urgent action against this despicable behaviour".

Just two days earlier, former Arsenal and Barcelona star Thierry Henry announced he would be disabling his social media accounts until companies took greater accountability for discriminatory posts.

Speaking ahead of Wales' World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, Bale agreed that more must be done to clamp down on such behaviour online.

"Something needs to happen," he said. "I think if everyone came together and decided to boycott social media, to make a statement [I would].

"If everybody did it at once, not just one or two people, and if we did a campaign with a lot of big influential people in sport and other forms of life came off social media to make a statement, then yeah, I think it could help.

"If that was the case, I would be all for that.

"I've had a lot of bad things said to me on social media, but I'm sure if they [Cabango and Matondo] wanted to come to me for advice they know where they am.

"We've had a brief chat, I haven't gone into too much details. They've spoken with representatives of the FAW and we know obviously it's in the hands of the police and an ongoing investigation.

"From my point of view, I try to stay off it because there's so many toxic people trying to say negative things and put you down.

"It's nice to be able to share what we do and how we do things, pictures of training and what we're enjoying doing.

"But looking at those comments sometimes it's best to stay away from it, share what you want to share and don't read too much into the comments because there's some horrible people out there."

Gareth Bale is focused on a strong finish to the season, including Wales' Euro 2020 campaign, before contemplating what happens next in his career.

Having become a peripheral figure at Real Madrid, Bale returned to Tottenham for the 2020-21 campaign in a loan move that appeared to be an ideal solution for all parties.

However, the 31-year-old arrived with a knee injury that required rehabilitation, leading to a sedate start to his second spell with Spurs. After waiting until October 18 to feature for the first team, he has completed 90 minutes just once – against Wycombe Wanderers in an FA Cup tie.

Yet there were signs of a return to form prior to the international break, including scoring twice and providing an assist in a resounding 4-0 win over Burnley.

Bale was also on target twice in a Premier League triumph over Crystal Palace, lifting his goal tally into double figures in all competitions.

His immediate focus is on Wales' World Cup qualifying campaign – having lost their Group E opener to Belgium, they host the Czech Republic on Tuesday – while there is no urgency on his part to work out a "solution" to his situation at club level.

"For me, first and foremost, I still have this season, still have plenty of games to go until the Euros," Bale told the media on Monday.

"Going into next season, legally my contract says I have to go back to Real Madrid, which is what I stated. I don't think that was being disrespectful to anybody.

"Real Madrid are my parent club and, as far as I agreed, I'm on loan at Tottenham until the end of the season. That is the plan so far; the reason I left was because I wanted to play games and get match fit, to enjoy my football.

"Obviously, come the summer I will go back to Real Madrid and we will go from there. I think the plan is to go back, whether then I sit down with my agent and decide something, we will do in the summer."

He added: "I want to be playing, but in football it's not just about what you want – it's also about the other side. I'm concentrating on this season – obviously we have a big game tomorrow – a big end of the season with Tottenham, then the Euros in the summer.

"For me, at the moment, I don't need to worry about anything else than this season.

"Regarding next season, after the Euros and my summer holiday, we will sit down and go through something then. Hopefully, we will come up with a solution."

Bale is aiming to finish strongly with Spurs, who have lifted themselves back into the running for a top-four finish in the league. There is also the possibility of securing silverware, with Jose Mourinho's side taking on Manchester City in the EFL Cup final on April 25.

Asked to assess his season so far, the forward replied: "It's been okay. It got off to a slow start as I came into Tottenham with a knee injury. Not having played football continuously for a year and a half, it took a little time to get going.

"The past couple of months I've felt stronger and stronger – I've felt like my form has been there, my speed has been there, I've scored some goals.

"I wish it could have started a lot quicker, but also I'm wise enough to know that it does take a bit of time to get your rhythm back. Now that I'm playing, I feel good and hopefully it can continue for the rest of the season, then into the Euros."

Bale played 84 minutes of last week's 3-1 defeat to Belgium, while he made a late appearance off the bench in the 1-0 friendly win over Mexico on Saturday.

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