After another busy off-season at Bayer Leverkusen, many would have tipped a slow start with a new face in the dugout.

With Peter Bosz relieved of his duties, Simon Rolfes and Leverkusen turned to Gerardo Seoane on the back of three consecutive Swiss Super League titles at the helm of Young Boys.

Star winger Leon Bailey also headlined the departures at BayArena, a year on from Kai Havertz's big-money move to Chelsea. Factor in major international tournaments prior to the 2021-22 campaign – Euro 2020, the Copa America and the Olympic Games – and it made for a challenging pre-season.

But Leverkusen have hit the ground running in the Bundesliga – a 4-0 rout of Borussia Monchengladbach and wins over Augsburg (4-1), Stuttgart (3-1) and Mainz (1-0) helping Die Werkself to second place through six games, three points behind leaders and champions Bayern Munich.

Leverkusen sporting director Rolfes told Stats Perform: "We're happy with the start of the season because it was a difficult summer for us but also the other teams who have a lot of international players. This summer with the Copa America, Euros, Olympic Games... there were a lot of players from us involved. A player from us won the Copa America and Olympics, so only the Euros we missed.

"That's why the pre-season was really difficult. The players step in, week by week, and I think one week before the start of the season, we had our final squad together. The transfer market due to coronavirus was also very different and late. That's why I'm very happy. We had good opponents."

"We were not happy with the last season," said Rolfes, whose Leverkusen finished sixth in 2020-21 while losing in the DFB-Pokal last 16 and Europa League round of 32. "A very good start but the end was difficult. We reached international competition okay, but we are ambitious and want more this season. You can imagine the Champions League is a big goal but also the DFB-Pokal and Europa League to go further.

"What's very important for our club is development. One thing is performance and also the result at the end of the season, but development is very important. Develop the players, make them better. Then we have the chance to also perform today in the best way. We have a lot of young players – we want to develop them to their best level. That's also good for the performance today."

 

Seoane's 13 points after six Bundesliga matches represent the best record of any Leverkusen head coach since Sami Hyypia (15) in 2013. For the North Rhine-Westphalia outfit, it is their best start to a top-flight season since 2019-20 (also 13), while they have only scored more goals after six matches in 2008-09 (18) than in the current campaign (16).

Leverkusen have exceeded their expected goals (xG) tally by almost eight goals this Bundesliga campaign – 7.7 (16 goals at 8.3 xG), a league best.

"One important point is football knowledge," Rolfes replied when asked what attracted Leverkusen to 42-year-old Swiss coach Seoane. "Also the leadership, that's very interesting. The leadership of the group as a head coach is very important. If you're in training, the assistant coaches can do things. If you don't feel so comfortable or don't have so many qualities, you can find the right team.

"The leadership as a head coach, you must have. That's a big strength, besides the football knowledge he has. He speaks six different languages – very good for an international squad to speak with the players in their language. That helps a lot to get the right connection to take them on their way and development."

Under Seoane, Leverkusen play a more patient brand of football, allowing their opposition more time on the ball in the Bundesliga rather than consistently pressing high up the field.

Through the first six games last season, Leverkusen allowed 11.1 passes per defensive action, compared to 12.2 with Seoane in charge, as Leverkusen look to instead create counter-attacks from deeper positions – their averaging starting distance at 38.6 metres from their own goal, compared to 42.2m previously. Their 17 direct attacks this term dwarf last year's six at the same stage.

Leverkusen recorded 8.7 high turnovers per match through six rounds last season, compared to 5.3 this time around, but they have scored four goals from such situations already in the Bundesliga – at least twice as many as any other side and more than any other team in Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22. They actually had fewer goals (three) from high turnovers after six games last time out, proving more ruthless this term.

Still, Leverkusen's philosophy remains the same, despite a new coach and altered approach, and it will continue to be the case with Seoane and beyond under Rolfes.

"We choose players, signing as a club," Rolfes said as he discussed the need to adopt a clear vision, instead of changing philosophy with every coach. "We sign the players for a specific style to get the most out of the squad, the player and to develop them in the best way. If you play in the totally other direction than you want to develop the players, you will not succeed. That's important to have a clear vision as a club. How you want to play and then choose the right coach in the best case.

"Every head coach of a pro team has their specific style. That's not the problem, but the main direction has to be clear. That's my task at the end to choose the right coach for the main direction. And then, the individual approach or quality of the coach, it's important you get something fresh in the club, team. The main direction is important and the club has to define the vision."

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

They have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1996-97, 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2001-02 and 2010-11 – while they also reached the 2001-02 Champions League final, succumbing to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow. There were Pokal final appearances in 2001-02, 2008-09 and 2019-20, too.

But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern's domestic and European dominance.

And that is thanks to teenage sensation Florian Wirtz.

The 18-year-old prodigy has continued to shine, filling the huge void left by countryman Havertz, amid rave reviews from across Europe.

Wirtz, who was prised from boyhood club Cologne last year, is the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 10 goals.

Leverkusen's Wirtz has already been directly involved in eight Bundesliga goals (four goals, four assists) in 292 minutes across the first six matchdays in 2021-22. Only Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland has had more direct goal involvements this term than the teenager.

Since Opta's detailed data collection began in 2004-05, only Patrick Helmes in 2008-09 and Stefan Kiessling in 2013-14 had previously registered as many direct goal involvements for Leverkusen after the first six matches to a Bundesliga season

Setting the standard across Europe, the new face of Leverkusen averages 37 minutes per goal involvement, which ranks best among players in the top five leagues (minimum 100 minutes played), ahead of Madrid superstar Karim Benzema (41 minutes). The 34-year-old Frenchman is the only one of those players to have exceeded his xG by a larger margin (4.8) than Wirtz (3.2) this season.

Already capped three times at international level, Wirtz has scored in four straight games, including Leverkusen's Europa League win against Ferencvaros on matchday one.

 

As Wirtz soars to new heights, Leverkusen are reaping the rewards of a unified philosophy and their faith in the midfielder.

"I think it's a real good example of how the club is working and how the club is thinking," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "The situation with Kai and Florian. Florian was here or came in the winter [of 2020] and made eight appearances after the lockdown with the first team. Then at the end of the [2019-20] season, Kai went to Chelsea.

"For sure, we got a lot of money for Kai, but we decided to focus on Florian Wirtz for the number 10 position. We don't sign any player as a replacement for Kai. For sure, we had some money to spend on an experienced player in the number 10 position, but we didn't do that. We said okay, the young guy will be the future and has the potential to replace or play very good in that position. We have him already in the club, so we trust him and try to develop him. That's why we sign players in other positions, where we needed improvement.

"That was a big sign for the player and for the chance you have as a young player in Leverkusen. If you have the ambition and quality, we count on you and give you the chance to develop. With development, there is also performance. That's why it's a great story for Florian but also for us as a club."

Wirtz's exploits have not gone unnoticed, however, with Bayern reportedly trying to sign the Germany international, while the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal have also been linked.

But Leverkusen have no plans to sell as Rolfes – who first watched Wirtz as a 13-year-old – added: "He has a long contract until 2026. We do not have to sell players early. We want to develop him, develop our team and club with him.

"So, there are rumours, okay. You cannot avoid that, but it's not our goal to sell him. The players at one time or point in their career make the next step to world-class level, that's okay for us, but not too early. He is a really young player. That was also with Kai – he was also extraordinary and some years with us and then maybe there's the next step. But not too early.

In February, Leverkusen extended their partnership with Stats Perform for the use of Edge Analysis – the most sophisticated football match preparation tool available.

Powered by tracking and event data, Edge Analysis applies unique AI models to unlock objective, dynamic and predictive insights to enhance pre and post-match analysis processes, delivering unique performance insights on all upcoming opponents. The platform uses over 100 AI-driven KPIs to deliver eight unique patented AI models, delivering objective insights within seconds, all linked to video.

"Data/sport technology is very important for us because I think there's huge potential in the future," Rolfes said of the deal. "Data will be better and better because the cameras/GPS tracking provides more precise data.

"We have now not only data in the computer and no one has the time to analyse it, we have the tools with AI, and find the right KPIs for you. That's very important for the match preparation and for the scouting process to be fast, really precise. That's why we invest in that topic here. That's through partnership and investing in our staff to get knowledge, to develop because, at the moment, we are only at the beginning. That's why you have to invest, to be a pioneer or leader in that topic."

Arsenal are set for a shake-up after missing out on European football for the first time in 26 years.

Mikel Arteta's side started the new Premier League campaign slowly.

But three wins in a row have offered hope and rumours are swirling about transfer activity.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL PLOT SWAP FOR EN-NESYRI

Arsenal will offer Alexandre Lacazette as part of a deal to land Youssef En-Nesyri from Sevilla, according to La Razon.

Morocco international forward En-Nesyri has sparked Arsenal's interest after netting 24 goals in all competitions in the 2020-21 season.

Lacazette has only made one league appearance for the Gunners this term and was reportedly shipped around during the off-season.

ROUND-UP

– Fabrizio Romano reports Lorenzo Pellegrini is set to sign a new long-term contract with Roma, which will remove his €30million release clause. Pellegrini was previously pursued by Liverpool and Tottenham.

– Liverpool scouts kept a close eye on Villarreal's Arnaut Danjuma at Wednesday's Champions League game against Manchester United as they plan for Sadio Mane's successor, claims the Daily Mirror.

– Real Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio remains in Arsenal's sights, reports the Daily Star.

Inter are not considering signing Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno, with Ajax's Andre Onana their preferred acquisition, claims Fabrizio Romano.

Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno says there "is no clear reason" why he was dropped by Mikel Arteta in favour of Aaron Ramsdale.

Germany international Leno started Arsenal's opening three Premier League games of the campaign, conceding nine goals in defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Ramsdale, who was signed from Sheffield United last month for a fee that could reportedly rise to £30million, was brought into the side following the 5-0 loss against City.

The 23-year-old kept clean sheets in his first two games against Norwich City and Burnley before shipping one late on in Sunday's 3-1 win against Arsenal's bitter rivals Tottenham.

Not only does Ramsdale boast a better clean sheet record than Leno from the same number of league games this term, he also has a far higher save percentage (87.5 compared to 50).

That save percentage rises to 91.67 when taking all competitions into account, the second-best return of any keeper to have played at least three times for a team in Europe's top five leagues, behind only Paris Saint-Germain's Gianluigi Donnarumma (92.86).

Despite Ramsdale's steady presence between the sticks, though, Leno feels Arteta's decision to leave him out of the side was unjustified.

"There was no clear reason why I was out, but it had nothing to do with my performance," he told Bild. "He is the trainer, he decides. Of course, it's difficult for me."

Leno is in his fourth season with Arsenal since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen but has been linked with a move away from Emirates Stadium next year.

Serie A champions Inter are reported to be keeping tabs on Leno's situation and the 29-year-old may consider a move away should his playing time not improve.

"London is very nice; Milan is not bad either and closer to my home Stuttgart," Leno said when asked about the rumoured interest from Inter.

"But I'm not seriously thinking about that yet. I feel comfortable at Arsenal and in London.

"Only if nothing changes in my situation by winter would I have to think about things: what option do I have, how can I continue? 

"But I'm concentrating on my work in training; I can't commit to anything else at the moment."

Toni Kroos is hopeful Real Madrid will finally land Kylian Mbappe next year after a failed attempt to sign the Paris Saint-Germain in the most recent transfer window.

Madrid are reported to have had three bids turned down for the France international in July and August, the last one said to be worth up to €200million.

However, Mbappe is due to become a free agent at the end of the season and can therefore secure a pre-contract agreement with Madrid – or any other foreign club – from the start of January.

Kroos has previously talked up the prospect of his side bringing in Mbappe and remains eager to link up with the 22-year-old in 2022.

"In the summer, I already said that I would like a player like him to come, but if he doesn't, we have a good team," he told Goal.

"Let's see what happens in the future. It is difficult for me to say, because I am not the one who decides. 

"His quality has not changed – he is a good player and what we know is that Madrid wanted to sign him but in the end they didn't succeed. Everything continues, also without Mbappe here.

"I think we are doing well and for the future my opinion has not changed: the best players have to be at Madrid, and he is sure to be one of them."

Mbappe has four goals and five assists in 10 games this term – only international team-mates Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba (both seven) have set up more goals in all competitions among players from Europe's top five leagues.

The PSG star has gone five matches without finding the net himself, however, after failing to add a goal to his assist for Lionel Messi in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League win over Manchester City.

While PSG were claiming a deserved victory over fellow heavyweights City, Madrid slumped to one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history as they fell 2-1 to Sheriff.

That was just Los Blancos' second defeat in 32 group-stage games at the Santiago Bernabeu, having previously lost to CSKA Moscow in December 2018.

Madrid have otherwise made a positive start to Carlo Ancelotti's second spell in charge, and Kroos, who made his first appearance of the season as a second-half substitute against Sheriff, believes the Italian's methods have changed over time, having been signed during his previous stint.

"Yes, there is a difference, but our relationship still remains very good," he said. 

"I had a good relationship with him in 2014. I haven't played many games so far [this season], so I can't say exactly what has changed because I haven't had many talks with him."

Gianluigi Donnarumma has laughed off "nonsense" claims he is unhappy at Paris Saint-Germain and seeking a swift return to Serie A.

The 22-year-old only joined PSG in July after reaching the end of his Milan contract and failing to agree fresh terms with his boyhood club.

However, according to reports from Italy this week, Donnarumma is already eyeing up a move to Juventus in January as he is not happy about having to challenge Keylor Navas for a starting spot.

Donnarumma was given an extended break after playing a huge part in Italy's Euro 2020 success and had to wait until six games into the campaign to make his debut in a 4-0 Ligue 1 win over Clermont.

He has played a further two games since – the 2-1 league win over Lyon and 2-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday – compared to eight appearances for Navas in all competitions.

But after being given the nod to start the big game with City, Donnarumma dismissed reports he is unwilling to share goalkeeping duties with Navas 

"I laugh at it," he told Sky Sport when asked about the recent speculation. "Every time I open the phone, I read a lot of it. 

"I know my strength, I know who I am and there is no problem whatsoever. I am here, and I am happy to be here. 

"I have a club that always supports me, and I just laugh when I read all this nonsense. I'm fine, and I'm going to continue."

Donnarumma impressed on his Champions League debut for PSG by making seven saves at the Parc des Princes, as goals from Idrissa Gueye and Lionel Messi earned the hosts a deserved win.

"I dreamed of a night in the Champions League like this," Donnarumma said. "It was a great match and gives me immense joy. 

"I thank all the people who have been close to me, from my parents to my girlfriend. It hasn't been an easy time, but I have an incredible family. I knew this moment would come.

"Playing with these champions is fantastic, they help you a lot and make you grow. Congratulations to Leo as well for his first goal. He is a phenomenon – there's nothing more to say."

Mauricio Pochettino must now decide whether to stick with Donnarumma in goal for Sunday's league trip to Rennes or instead turn to Navas.

Navas has conceded eight goals in his eight appearances for PSG this campaign, compared to one goal shipped in three outings for Donnarumma, who also boasts a better save percentage (92.86 compared to 75.76).

Donnarumma's save percentage of 92.86 is the best of any player from Europe's top five leagues to have played at least three times across all competitions, with Arsenal's Aaron Ramsdale (91.67) and Chelsea's Edouard Mendy (88.89) next on the list.

Youri Tielemans has not yet committed his long-term future to Leicester City.

Tielemans is only contracted with the Foxes until the end of the 2022-23 season.

And Leicester may consider selling their FA Cup final hero at the end of this season if they cannot strike a new deal.

 

TOP STORY – SPANISH GIANTS KEEN ON TIELEMANS

Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are circling for Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, reports The Athletic.

The 24-year-old Belgium international publicly said he is "keeping his options open" as he negotiates a new Leicester deal.

Barcelona and Madrid would be interested in Tielemans, who has also been linked with Liverpool, should he become available next off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

– Football Insider reports Tottenham are still planning to sell Dele Alli, although they will wait until the end of this season. Spurs are hoping Alli's value will rise throughout the season to land a significant transfer fee.

– Everton are considering moves for Real Madrid pair Isco and Luka Jovic in January on six-month loan deals, according to Defensa Central.

– Liverpool are keeping an eye on Porto's Colombian star Luis Diaz, reports The Independent, with the two sides having met in the Champions League on Tuesday.

– Juventus have joined Chelsea in showing interest in Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, claims the Daily Mail.

– Newcastle attacker Allan Saint-Maximin has interest from Chelsea and Liverpool, according to the Express.

Manchester United are in the market for a midfielder. 

With a long-rumoured target looking unlikely, United are shifting their gaze from one England midfielder to another. 

Could they prise another up-and-coming star from Leeds United? 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED SHIFT SIGHTS TO PHILLIPS

Kalvin Phillips is Manchester United's latest target in an effort to shore up the midfield, the Daily Star reports. 

The Leeds star has gained favour at Old Trafford as United have given up hopes of adding West Ham's Declan Rice thanks to his reported £90million price tag.

Phillips, 25, is under contract at Elland Road through 2024 and reportedly is valued at £60m. 

 

ROUND-UP

– Barcelona are still in pursuit of Matthijs de Ligt and are prepared to offer Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Memphis Depay to Juventus in a deal for the Netherlands defender, who is valued at €75m, according to Calciomercato.

– Franck Kessie has turned down Milan's latest contract offer and is eyeing a move to the Premier League, 90min reports, with United and Liverpool said to be interested. 

– Juan Mata is considering a move away from Old Trafford in January due to a lack of playing time this season, the Manchester Evening News reports. 

– Everton are considering loan deals with Real Madrid for Isco and Luka Jovic, claims Defensa Central.

– West Brom teen Reyes Cleary is drawing attention from Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim, says the Daily Mail. 

– Steven Nzonzi is nearing a move from Roma to Al Rayyan, Calciomercato reports. 

Is the end nigh for Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford?
 
Wan-Bisakka joined Manchester United in a big-money deal in 2019 but the Red Devils are reportedly ready to replace the Englishman.
 
A talented RB Leipzig defender could be the team's next right-back.

 

TOP STORY – NEW RIGHT-BACK SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are eyeing RB Leipzig right-back Nordi Mukiele, according Fichajes.net.

United are reportedly keen to sign a replacement after losing patience with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is believed to be interested in Leipzig's 23-year-old star Mukiele.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Milan and Juventus are interested in United States and Dallas sensation Ricardo Pepi. The 18-year-old has also been linked with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

- Inter are willing to let Alexis Sanchez leave the Serie A champions, reports Calciomercato. Marseille, Real Betis and Sevilla are among the possible options for the 32-year-old Chilean.

Tottenham are weighing up a move for Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins, per Fichajes. It comes amid continued uncertainty over Spurs star Harry Kane, who has been linked with Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus as well as United.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo is showing no signs of slowing down, despite his advancing years.

But the evergreen 36-year-old is still planning for life once he decides to call it quits.

A coaching career in Manchester is believed to be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO DOESN'T WANT TO LEAVE OLD TRAFFORD

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to stay at Manchester United beyond his retirement, according to The Sun.

Ronaldo is back at United for a second spell after re-joining from Juventus before the transfer window closed, having left Old Trafford in 2009.

The 36-year-old, however, is already planning for life after football as he eyes a coaching role with United's youth team in order to work with his son Cristiano Jr.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are interested in Juventus star Federico Chiesa, who has also been linked with Borussia Dortmund.

- Chelsea are preparing to make a big-money move for Juve centre-back Matthijs de Ligt after missing out on Sevilla star Jules Kounde, reports Diario AS.

- The Daily Mail says Arsenal and Tottenham are eyeing a January loan move for Barcelona misfit Philippe Coutinho.

- Staying in London and the Mirror claims Tottenham are considering an approach for Juve's Dejan Kulusevski.

Atletico Madrid are hoping to sign Fabian Ruiz from Napoli, according to Calciomercato. Determined to prise the Spain international, LaLiga champions Atletico could use Marcos Llorente as part of the deal. Fabian has also been linked with Real Madrid and Barca.

- Per Corriere della Serra, United, Chelsea and Juve are among the heavyweight clubs plotting a move for disgruntled Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has found himself on the bench since joining on a free transfer.

 

Anthony Martial has reportedly been permitted to explore his options by Manchester United.

Martial has fallen down the pecking order at Old Trafford since Cristiano Ronaldo's return.

France international Martial scored four league goals for United last term, after netting 17 times in the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND PLOTS MARTIAL MOVE

Borussia Dortmund are bracing for Erling Haaland's departure by plotting a move for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, claims 90Min.

Haaland, who has a release clause in his contract that activates in mid-2022, is being chased by a host of top clubs, including Premier League champions Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Liverpool and United.

Martial is still contracted to the Red Devils until 2024, having penned a five-year deal in January 2019, amid reported interest from Barca, Tottenham and Arsenal.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Transfer Window podcast claims City owner Sheikh Mansour wants to hijack Madrid's bid for PSG star Kylian Mbappe and sign him "at any cost". Mbappe has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- Barcelona are looking at Reims' Spanish head coach Oscar Garcia as a replacement for under-pressure boss Ronald Koeman, per RMC Sport.

- Madrid midfielder Isco has held numerous rounds of negotiations with Serie A challengers Milan about a move to Italy, according to Todo Fichajes.

Barca are considering a move for Porto's Colombia international forward Luis Diaz next off-season, claims El Nacional.

- Diario AS says Theo Hernandez is ready to commit his long-term future to Milan amid interest from PSG and City.

Marco Asensio was considering leaving Real Madrid on loan before Carlo Ancelotti told the midfielder to stay with the LaLiga leaders.

The Spain international was concerned that his first-team opportunities would be limited this season due to the options at Ancelotti's disposal in his second spell as Madrid boss.

Liverpool were among the clubs linked with Asensio, but the 25-year-old was still with Los Blancos when the transfer window closed at the end of last month.

Asensio, who missed most of the 2019-20 due to a knee injury, marked his first start of the season with a hat-trick in a 6-1 LaLiga hammering of his former club Real Mallorca on Wednesday.

Horacio Gaggioli, Asensio's agent, has revealed it could have been a very different story.

"We had been considering a loan for him to get back in form as soon as possible, either in Spain or abroad," he told Cadena SER's El Larguero show.

"There were no problems in that sense. But four days ago, Carletto (Ancelotti) told him to stay.

"We knew the quality Real Madrid had in midfield, probably the best in the world. So where would he play? It's not that we had no faith in him, because he can also play on the wing.

"But we knew that the year after the injury was going to be difficult and Real Madrid can't wait for anybody. They have to win every week and recovering from an injury isn't easy at Real Madrid."

Gaggioli says Asensio had no desire to leave the Spanish capital, adding: "We cannot be more grateful to Real Madrid."

With his treble against Mallorca, Asensio became the sixth Spanish player to score a hat-trick for Madrid in LaLiga this century and the first since Alvaro Morata in April 2017. 

He has two years to run on his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu and Ancelotti insists the versatile midfielder has a big role to play.

"Marco was important to us even before the Mallorca game," Ancelotti said on Friday. "He has shown his quality for us. He can play in different positions and is a very important player in the squad."

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta says "everything can happen" with regards to Alexandre Lacazette's future ahead of the north London derby against Tottenham on Sunday.

Lacazette's contract expires at the end of this season and the striker has been linked with the likes of Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla.

Gunners manager Arteta is unsure whether Lacazette, who has scored two goals in three matches this season, will stay at the club.

The Spaniard said: "We discuss that internally and we discuss that with him. It's a long season ahead of us, everything can happen, everything is open."

Granit Xhaka is available to return against Arsenal's fierce rivals at the Emirates Stadium this weekend after serving a three-match ban.

Arteta has a fully fit squad to choose from and says Xhaka has looked sharp in training, despite the midfielder having also tested positive for coronavirus while on international duty with Switzerland this month.

"He came back and he was flying [in training], because he really looks after himself," Arteta said. "He gives you the maximum and the best possible attitude to compete and win matches."

While Arsenal have won three consecutive games in all competitions without conceding a goal, Spurs have lost their previous two Premier League matches 3-0.

Arteta does not believe it is necessarily a good time to play Tottenham, who have won just one of their past 28 away league games against Arsenal.

He said: "When the ball is rolling I think we all forget where we are, we're just trying to compete to win that football match, we won't be any different from them."

Arteta added: "We are playing at home, we're going to have our people right behind us, they're going to create an incredible atmosphere that you have to be able to enjoy, empower and make the most of it."

The former Arsenal midfielder says his players are well aware of the magnitude of the game.

"I will make sure that they understand what it means, the history between the two clubs and what it means emotionally to all of our supporters," Arteta said. "You have to play the game with a slightly different skin, because there is a little bit more at stake."

Barcelona need to add some attacking options to their squad, particularly with the Lionel Messi era now over.

Ferran Torres is among those on their wish list. 

Will Manchester City let him go? 

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA STILL COVET TORRES

Barcelona are not ready to give up on their pursuit of Manchester City forward Ferran Torres, the Sun reports.  

After being rebuffed in a previous overture for the 21-year-old Spain international, Barca are ready to try again next year.  

Torres has done them no favours with his impressive showing for Spain at Euro 2020, plus his in-form start to this season for City. 

 

ROUND-UP

Xavi could be in line to replace Ronald Koeman at Barcelona, Marca reports. The Barca legend is head coach at Al Sadd after finishing his playing career with the Qatari club.  

Liverpool plan to renew their pursuit of West Ham's Jarrod Bowen, the Liverpool Echo reports, after they reportedly bid £20million for him during the previous transfer window.  

Alexandre Lacazette will have no shortage of suitors when the time comes for him to depart Arsenal. Atletico Madrid are interested in the France striker, says Le10 Sport, while West Ham and Crystal Palace may also bid for the 30-year-old, according to 90min. 

Barcelona have reached an agreement with Turkish club Kayserispor to sign attacking midfielder Emre Demir on a five-year deal running to 2027.

The Catalan giants will pay an initial €2million for the 17-year-old and have set his buyout clause at €400m.

Demir will remain with Super Lig side Kayserispor for the remainder of 2021-22 before linking up with Barcelona B from the start of next season.

He has already featured 31 times at senior level and made history in November 2019 when becoming the youngest scorer in the Turkish top flight at 15 years, nine months and 25 days old.

The youngster, who previously had a trial at Barca's La Masia academy in 2017, will become the third Turkish player to sign for the Catalans after Rustu Recber and Arda Turan.

Julian Nagelsmann has been impressed by Antonio Rudiger's development under Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea but insists he has not yet discussed a move for the centre-back.

The Bundesliga champions are rumoured to be among a number of clubs, including Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, keeping a close eye on the Germany international.

Rudiger is into the final year of his Chelsea contract and will therefore be able to sign a pre-contract agreement with foreign clubs from January unless fresh terms are agreed.

According to reports that emerged on Thursday, Bayern have already been in contact with Rudiger's agent about an end-of-season switch to the Allianz Arena.

But Nagelsmann was unwilling to discuss his side's supposed interest in Rudiger any further during Thursday's news conference previewing the trip to Greuther Furth.

"I'm not talking about players from other clubs, particularly outside of the transfer window," he said. "But I will speak of him as a football fan: He has developed very well.

"Thomas Tuchel has coached him well. Before he was sidelined at Chelsea but now he is a crucial player. I can't saying anything else.

"Believe it or not, I haven't spoken to Brazzo [sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic] about it yet. Even if I had, I wouldn't give that away. 

"I have to see how long he still has to go on his contract. Then I will see if I have any money in my wallet."

Rudiger's importance to Chelsea since Tuchel took charge on January 26 is reflected in the statistics.

The 28-year-old has helped the Blues to 20 clean sheets in 32 matches in all competitions across that period – the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues.

Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are next on the list with 15 each, highlighting Chelsea's defensive solidity under Tuchel.

Rudiger has played seven times this season and has won 0.55 tackles per 90 minutes, compared to 0.76 for Niklas Sule, 0.88 for Lucas Hernandez and 1.64 for Dayot Upamecano among Bayern's regular centre-backs.

The German's 73.77 touches per 90 minutes and 56.86 successful passes is also fewer than each of Sule, Hernandez and Upamecano have managed, albeit in different competitions.

Sule and recent acquisition Upamecano have been Bayern's most regular pairing at centre-back this term and may get the nod for Friday's trip to Trolli-Arena. 

Bayern enter the game on a seven-match winning run in all competitions, scoring 37 goals across that spell, and have lost only one of their last 48 league games against promoted opposition.

Nagelsmann has Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala back in contention following recent lay-offs, but he will not take any risks over the fitness of the attacking pair.

"The good news is that Gnabry and Musiala have both been able to return to training, with Hernandez also taking part today," Nagelsmann said.

"Serge and Jamal are both looking good and ready to play. But we have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.

"Both of their conditions could cause a reaction after training, so we have to wait and see how sensible it is to field them from the start. We also have a Champions League game coming up next week.

"Looking at today's training session alone, I'd say that both players can start tomorrow. But the probability they will both start is very low."

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