Simone Inzaghi did not expect to be without Romelu Lukaku heading into his first season as Inter head coach.

Lukaku, who scored 24 Serie A goals last season to help Inter win their first league title since 2010, was sold to Chelsea last week for a reported £97.5million (€115m).

Inter needed to sell players as they deal with financial difficulties compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, and they had already sold full-back Achraf Hakimi to Paris Saint-Germain.

Meanwhile, Lukaku's former strike partner Lautaro Martinez has been linked with a move to London as well, with Tottenham reportedly agreeing a fee for the Argentina forward, though that move seems likely to depend on Harry Kane's future.

In the wake of Lukaku's departure, Inter have bolstered their squad with the arrival of experienced striker Edin Dzeko, from Roma, and Netherlands right-back Denzel Dumfries, who has arrived from PSV. The Nerazzurri had previously signed Hakan Calhanoglu on a free transfer from rivals Milan.

Inter start their title defence against Genoa on Saturday and, ahead of his first league game in charge, former Lazio coach Inzaghi revealed the club did all they could to keep Lukaku, who is poised to make his second Chelsea debut on Sunday against Arsenal.

"It was an unexpected and unplanned departure," Inzaghi told a news conference on Friday, also confirming Inter are in the market for another forward.

"It is normal that I, [chief executive Giuseppe] Marotta and [sporting director Piero] Ausilio tried to convince him.

"In the week I trained him, I understood why he is so decisive and loved. When he decided, he came to tell me honestly that Chelsea was his dream. We talked to him but the choice was made by the boy. With Dzeko and another signing, we will cover his departure."

 

Asked about Inter's ambitions for 2021-22, Inzaghi said: "I think that Inter's goals are certainly ambitious.

"I don't like making proclamations, but what will make the difference will be the motivations of the boys: during the retreat they showed me that they have a lot of them, I'm confident.

"We will do everything to ensure that things go the right way. It will obviously be a season with difficulties, but the goal in all of us is the match against Genoa.

"There is an excellent relationship with the club, a team level is still missing something but so far I am happy with the players who have arrived.

"We know that there have been some sales, such as that of Hakimi, that of Lukaku and the problem of [Christian] Eriksen. Dzeko would have been my request regardless of Lukaku's situation. Dumfries will need to settle down."

Romelu Lukaku will look to inflict more pain on wounded Arsenal when he makes his second Chelsea debut on Sunday.

Lukaku is set to be unleashed on the Gunners for a Premier League return at the Emirates Stadium after completing a record £97.5million (€115m) move from Inter.

The Belgium striker played a massive part in Inter's Serie A triumph last season and is back at Stamford Bridge hunting more trophies.

While Chelsea started their Premier League season with an emphatic 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, the Gunners suffered a 2-0 derby defeat to newly promoted Brentford.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform previews the big showdown in North London, with the Blues out for revenge after Arsenal did the double over them last season.

 

LUKAKU CAN FIRE AGAINST GUNNERS DESPITE POOR RECORD

Lukaku is relishing the challenge of taking the Blues' supposedly cursed number nine shirt.

If his record against Arsenal is anything to go by, a debut goal may be unlikely for the prolific frontman.

The former Everton and Manchester United striker has scored only twice in 15 Premier League appearances versus with Gunners, although he returns to England seemingly at another level.

Lukaku terrorised defences in Serie A and has been consistently outstanding at international level, the Red Devils' all-time leading goalscorer netting four times in five Euro 2020 games

Brentford exposed Arsenal's defensive frailties in the first game of the season and Lukaku could cause them all sorts of problems.

 

WERNER COULD CASH IN

Timo Werner came in for plenty of criticism for poor finishing in his first season in England, although the Germany international's pace and intelligent movement still made him a real handful.

Thomas Tuchel said Lukaku's arrival is good news for Werner, whose 29 touches in the win over Palace was the fewest by any Chelsea outfield player.

The presence of the powerhouse Lukaku and his ability to hold the ball up can help Werner thrive this season if they are both given the nod from the start.

Werner scored only six Premier League goals last season and provided eight assists, missing 18 of what were deemed by Opta to be big chances and falling short of the 11.5 expected goals (xG) tally.

He should not be short of opportunities with Lukaku leading the line and can silence any critics in the 2021-21 campaign.

 

GUNNERS NEED A CUTTING EDGE

Arsenal have only been beaten in three of their past 14 meetings with Chelsea but they will have to show a marked improvement from a lacklustre display against the Bees.

Strike duo Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were absent for that loss, with the club confirming on Thursday both players had tested positive for coronavirus.

Lacazette will not face the Blues and Aubameyang is to be assessed ahead of the game.

Mikel Arteta's side played 15 Premier League games without at least one of Aubameyang or Lacazette - both linked with moves ahead of the transfer deadline - last season, winning nine, drawing four and losing two.

With the pair both in action, they won nine of 23 matches, lost 11 and drew three.

Folarin Balogun failed to hit the target with his three shots in his first Premier League start at Brentford, with Nicolas Pepe only testing David Raya once with his four attempts.

Arsenal must show more of a cutting edge if they are to get one over on their London rivals again and Chelsea will be wary of Kieran Tierney, who created six chances against the Bees.

Erling Haaland is one of the most in-demand players in Europe.

Clubs from across the continent are queuing up to sign the Borussia Dortmund forward.

Real Madrid, however, are firmly placed to make a move for the Norwegian.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL EYEING HAALAND

Real Madrid believe a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could be done next year, according to the front page of Friday's Marca.

Kylian Mbappe – out of contract in 2022 – has dominated headlines as Madrid target the Paris Saint-Germain forward.

But Madrid have not forgotten about Haaland, who is also reportedly wanted by Manchester United, Manchester City, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Athletic says Bernardo Silva has turned down a move to Tottenham as part of a potential deal that would help send Harry Kane to City. Atletico Madrid and Barca have also been linked with City's Silva.

Pedri could sign a new four-year deal with Barca by September, reports Sport. The 18-year-old has been a revelation at Camp Nou.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Milan are nearing a deal to sign Tiemoue Bakayoko from Chelsea. Bakayoko spent the 2018-19 season on loan at Milan. Di Marzio, meanwhile, says Milan are interested in bringing Monaco's Pietro Pellegri to San Siro on loan.

- Staying in Milan and Tuttosport reports the Rossoneri are interested in Sassuolo and Italy star Domenico Berardi. Leicester City are also reportedly among his admirers.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga is dreaming of a move to PSG, according to Le Parisien. United have also been linked with the France midfielder.

Emerson Palmieri has completed a season-long loan switch from Chelsea to Lyon.

The Italian full-back moved to Stamford Bridge from Roma in January 2018 and has made 71 appearances for the Blues in total.

However, opportunities have proven scarce and Emerson, a part of the side that achieved Europa League glory in 2018-19, has played just 33 Premier League games for Chelsea.

Having helped Italy win Euro 2020 last month, Emerson has now opted for a fresh challenge in Ligue 1 for this campaign.

Lyon confirmed on their official website that an initial fee of €500,000 has been paid with a potential further €500,000 in bonuses, while a purchase option is included.

It has been a difficult start to the 2021-22 campaign for Lyon, who have taken one point from their first two Ligue 1 games and were beaten 3-0 by Angers on Sunday.

 

Kylian Mbappe's future continues to dominate headlines.

The Paris Saint-Germain forward is out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and no closer to re-signing in the French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly holding onto hope of securing his services before the end of the transfer window.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID STILL DREAMING OF MBAPPE

Real Madrid have not given up on signing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Mbappe is into the final year of his PSG contract and while he has been tipped to make the move to Madrid, he has reportedly told friends he will remain in Paris.

However, LaLiga powerhouses Madrid – also linked with Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland – believe it is a strategy to secure a friendly exit from PSG.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are interested in Monaco defensive midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni, say reporters Sacha Tavolieri and Jonathan Shrager. United have also been linked with Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, who is reportedly wanted by PSG and Madrid.

- RB Leipzig star Marcel Sabitzer is interested in a move to Bundesliga rivals Bayern Munich, claims Bild.

- Goal and widespread reports say Arsenal are close to signing Martin Odegaard from Madrid. Odegaard spent six months on loan at Arsenal last season.

Duvan Zapata is Inter's priority signing, according to Calciomercato. Despite signing Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries after Romelu Lukaku's, the Serie A champions are eyeing the Atlanta forward. Borussia Monchengladbach's Marcus Thuram, Joaquin Correa of Lazio, Torino forward Andrea Belotti and Wolfsburg's Wout Weghorst are other options.

- Italian journalist Sara Meini reports Manchester City are stepping up their pursuit of Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic amid their struggle to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham. Atletico Madrid and Spurs have also been linked with Vlahovic.

Juventus are nearing a deal to re-sign Miralem Pjanic from Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo. Juve, according to Di Marzio, are also listening to offers for Weston McKennie.

Kenedy has extended his contract with Chelsea and agreed to return to Brazil to join Flamengo on a season-long loan.

The 25-year-old previously had a deal in place to stay at Stamford Bridge until 2022, though a new longer-term contract will keep him with the Champions League winners until 2023.

The versatile wide player, who joined from Fluminense in August 2015, has been loaned out four times in the last five seasons, making just 27 first-team appearances for the Blues and scoring three goals.

He has spent the last two campaigns playing in Spain, for Getafe and then Granada, after spells to varying degrees of success with Premier League sides Watford and Newcastle United.

During his time at Newcastle in 2018-19, Kenedy attempted the second most dribbles at the club (61) and was successful in just over half of his ball carries, despite playing only 25 top-flight games.

Kenedy continued in similar fashion with Granada, whom he netted for four times in 28 LaLiga appearances, while also ranking joint-second for dribbles attempted and completing just over half of the 72 he tried.

The Brazilian also played the fourth most passes into the box last term, including crosses, swinging in 63 passes and creating 10 chances from open play.

There will be home comforts aplenty for Kenedy with Flamengo, who share their stadium - the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro - with former club Fluminense, and he will be hoping to help the reigning champions of Brazil to another Serie A title this season.

Manchester United's Andreas Pereira may also join the Chelsea loanee in Brazil, with reports linking the midfielder with a loan to the Brazilian outfit.

Michy Batshuayi has extended his Chelsea contract until 2023 and joined Besiktas on loan for the 2021-22 campaign.

Batshuayi, who joined the Blues in 2016, has spent much of his time at Chelsea out on loan.

He thrived with Borussia Dortmund in 2018, though struggled at Valencia the following season, switching to Crystal Palace on a temporary basis for the back half of 2018-19.

The Belgium forward was a target for Palace in the following transfer window, but remained at Chelsea. He made 24 appearances, though few of them were starts, scoring seven goals.

Batshuayi did return to Selhurst Park last season, though scored just two goals from 18 Premier League appearances for the Eagles.

The 27-year-old had entered the final year of his Chelsea deal, but that has now been renewed, with an immediate season-long loan to Turkish champions Besiktas confirmed on Wednesday.

"Very very happy to join Besiktas," Batshuayi, who received a huge welcome when he landed in Istanbul, tweeted.

"An incredible opportunity for me and I'm already looking to play. Thank you to all the fans for the crazy welcome at Istanbul. See you at the stadium very soon."

Batshuayi slipped further down the pecking order at Chelsea upon the arrival of his compatriot Romelu Lukaku, who re-joined the European Champions in a reported £97.5million (€115m) deal from Serie A champions Inter last week.

He is the third centre-forward to leave the club this transfer window, with Chelsea having sold Olivier Giroud to Milan, while Tammy Abraham was unveiled as a Roma player on Tuesday.

Thomas Tuchel still has plenty of high-quality attacking options at his disposal, with Lukaku spearheading a forward line that also includes Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic, with support provided from midfielders Mason Mount, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi.

Manchester City's interest in signing Tottenham's Harry Kane is widely known but a deal appears no closer to materialising. 

The 28-year-old forward was absent for the two sides' Premier League game on Sunday, when Spurs took the points.

City have reportedly bid up to £125 million to sign the England international, who reportedly requested a move late last season.

TOP STORY - KANE FRUSTRATED AS SPURS REJECT CITY BID

Kane has grown frustrated with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and thrown down the gauntlet with a proposed move to Manchester City, reports The Telegraph.

According to the report, the England forward feels that Levy has not honoured their meeting at the end of the 2019-20 season when he requested to leave Spurs if they underachieved.

Kane is also frustrated that Levy's tactics have seen fans turned against him and that the chairman is also refusing to sell or even accept calls from City.

The report claims that City have submitted a fresh £125m bid for Kane, which Spurs have turned down.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Larguero claims that Paris Saint-Germain director Leonardo has informed the players that Kylian Mbappe will stay to see out the remainder of his contract, due to expire in mid-2022, scuppering Real Madrid's hopes of signing him this month or in January.

- Samuel Umtiti, Martin Braithwaite and Miralem Pjanic are all on the chopping block at Barcelona, according to Diario AS, which claims the Catalans must sell three players this month to reduce their salary bill despite Lionel Messi's exit.

- Martin Odegaard is set to re-join Arsenal on a permanent deal from Real Madrid, says Fabrizio Romano. Talks are at their final stages with a deal until 2026.

- Tottenham are keen on Chelsea defender Kurt Zouma, reports Sky Sports. The Blues would demand a £25 million fee for the Frenchman.

- Internazionale are in talks to sign forward Marcus Thuram from Moenchengladbach, claims Sky Sport Italia.

- The Sun reports that Wolves are talking to Olympiacos about signing Portuguese defender Ruben Semedo on a one-year loan.

Cristiano Ronaldo is suddenly the name dominating the transfer rumour mill.

The Portuguese superstar is reportedly drawing interest from multiple quarters.

Is a departure from Juventus on the cards?

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO SPECULATION ABOUNDS

Ronaldo is the subject of widespread speculation around Europe. 

Paris Saint-Germain would like Ronaldo to replace Kylian Mbappe if the France international departs for Real Madrid this summer window or next, says Calciomercato, opening up the tantalising prospect of a partnership with Lionel Messi.

Meanwhile, El Chiringuito suggests Carlo Ancelotti could make a move to bring Ronaldo back to the Santiago Bernabeu.

Elsewhere, Corriere dello Sport claims Ronaldo has offered his services to Manchester City.

 

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona could swap Philippe Coutinho to Arsenal in their bid to land Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to Sky Sports. 

- Despite signing an extension with PSG through 2023 just a few months ago, Julian Draxler could be on the way out. Kicker says a Bundesliga team, likely Bayer Leverkusen, have made a €20m offer. 

- Hector Bellerin wants out of Arsenal, The Athletic reports, saying Inter are monitoring the situation. The Star says the Gunners could move him back to Barca in a swap deal for Emerson Royal.

- Juventus will make a final bid of €35million to Sassuolo for Manuel Locatelli, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Tottenham want to add Patrick Bamford to their attack but Leeds are keen to sign him to a long-term extension, says the Mirror. 

- West Ham are still trying to land Kurt Zouma from Chelsea, says the Guardian.

- Lyon are looking to pry Emerson Palmieri away from Chelsea on a loan deal with an option to buy, L'Equipe reports. 

- Clement Lenglet could be on the move from Barcelona to Roma, says Gianluigi Longari. 

Is Kylian Mbappe's future nearing a resolution?

Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season and the Paris Saint-Germain forward is no closer to extending his contract in the
French capital.

Real Madrid are reportedly poised to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID NEARING MBAPPE DEAL?

Real Madrid are closing in on Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Monday's Marca.

Mbappe is in the final year of his PSG contract and he has reportedly made it clear he has no intention of re-signing in Paris.

Long touted to join Madrid, the LaLiga giants' pursuit of Mbappe is set to enter a decisive phase this week.

The Transfer Window podcast, however, claims Liverpool will attempt to sign Mbappe on a free transfer at the end of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Barcelona are monitoring Arsenal pair Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as they look to rebuild following Lionel Messi's departure to PSG.

- Inter are eyeing Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne but want a discount on the Italy star, claims Sky Sport Italia. Napoli value Insigne at around €25-30million with one year remaining on his contract. Lazio's Joaquin Correa, Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata and Fiorentina sensation Dusan Vlahovic have also been linked to Inter.

- Sport Italia says Tottenham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, who has been linked with West Ham. Spurs are also keen on Fiorentina star Vlahovic, according to Sport Italia.

- According to Cadena SER, Antoine Griezmann is open to returning to Atletico Madrid this off-season. Griezmann swapped Atletico for Barca in 2019.

Luka Jovic has decided he wants to join Inter on loan, per Nerazzurri Siamo Noi. The Madrid outcast has also been linked with Eintracht Frankfurt, Sampdoria and Genoa.

Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are tracking Metz's 18-year-old midfielder Pape Matar Sarr, claims the Daily Mail.

Manchester City's interest in signing Tottenham forward Harry Kane is well known.

The two sides will meet on Sunday in the Premier League with the situation adding spice.

Spurs have held out on City's interest although the matter will develop as the conclusion of the transfer window approaches.

 

TOP STORY – SPURS HOLDING FIRM ON KANE

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is refusing to budge as Manchester City attempt to sign Harry Kane, reports The Telegraph.

Levy will come face to face with City officials in Sunday's Premier League meeting between the two sides.

The report claims the Spurs chairman is unwavering in his plan to retain his best player despite Kane expressing his desire to leave.

ROUND-UP

- Despite that, Tottenham continue to be linked with big-money moves, hinting they are expecting funds in their pockets soon, with Villarreal's Pau Torres firmly in their sights for £55m (€65m) according to The Mirror.

- Tammy Abraham's proposed switch from Chelsea to Roma is imminent according to The Athletic. The fee is reportedly worth €40m (£34m) with a buy-back clause after his second season.

- Calciomercato claims that Bayern Munich are willing to accept Hector Bellerin as part of a straight swap with Arsenal for Corentin Tolisso .

- Despite heavy speculation, Liverpool are yet to formally lodge a bid for Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez claims AS.

- Former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea striker Diego Costa is set to complete his move to join Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro until December next year reports Fabrizio Romano.

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea after the European champions signed the Belgium forward from Inter for a reported £97.5million (€115m) fee.

After winning the Champions League, Chelsea have been in the hunt to further bolster Thomas Tuchel's squad with the acquisition of a top-tier striker.

Erling Haaland was a target, but Chelsea saw their approach rebuffed by Borussia Dortmund, who are in no need to sell the Norwegian star after they brought in €85m (£72.6m) for Jadon Sancho.

Chelsea subsequently switched their focus to Lukaku, who led Inter to their first Serie A title in a decade last season, netting 24 league goals.

An initial offer was reportedly turned down but, after Lukaku – who had earlier claimed he wanted to stay at San Siro and play under new coach Simone Inzaghi – indicated he wished to leave, Inter opted to sell their prized asset.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku told Chelsea's website. "It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling."

Chelsea have by no means signed the 28-year-old cheaply, however, with the reported fee a club record.

It also falls just £2.5m short of the British transfer record set by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City. Lukaku has signed a five-year deal to head back to Stamford Bridge.

 

Lukaku's departure will come as a blow to Inter but does relieve some of the financial pressure on the Italian giants, as they needed to raise funds through player sales.

Achraf Hakimi has left to join Paris Saint-Germain, while Lautaro Martinez has also been touted as potentially leaving, though Inter would surely be loath to lose both of their forwards in the same transfer window.

Lukaku joined Everton on a permanent basis in 2014 after enjoying a stellar campaign on loan with the Toffees.

He had signed for the Blues as a teenager in 2011 from Anderlecht, though his first-team outings were limited before he went on to join West Brom on loan.

Lukaku became Everton's record Premier League goalscorer, netting 68 times before joining Manchester United for £75m in 2017. 

Despite a promising start at Old Trafford, Lukaku failed to find his best form under Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed him to leave for Inter in 2019, a move that reignited his career.

Having thrived under Antonio Conte, Lukaku now rejoins Chelsea as one of the world's leading players at his position.

Romelu Lukaku has returned to Chelsea after the European champions signed the Belgium forward from Inter for a reported £97.5million (€115m) fee.

After winning the Champions League, Chelsea have been in the hunt to further bolster Thomas Tuchel's squad with the acquisition of a top-tier striker.

Erling Haaland was a target, but Chelsea saw their approach rebuffed by Borussia Dortmund, who are in no need to sell the Norwegian star after they brought in €85m (£72.6m) for Jadon Sancho.

Chelsea subsequently switched their focus to Lukaku, who led Inter to their first Serie A title in a decade last season, netting 24 league goals.

An initial offer was reportedly turned down but, after Lukaku – who had earlier claimed he wanted to stay at San Siro and play under new coach Simone Inzaghi – indicated he wished to leave, Inter opted to sell their prized asset.

"I'm happy and blessed to be back at this wonderful club," Lukaku told Chelsea's website. "It's been a long journey for me: I came here as a kid who had a lot to learn, now I'm coming back with a lot of experience and more mature.

"The relationship I have with this club means so much to me, as you know. I have supported Chelsea as a kid and now to be back and try to help them win more titles is an amazing feeling."

Chelsea have by no means signed the 28-year-old cheaply, however, with the reported fee a club record.

It also falls just £2.5m short of the British transfer record set by Jack Grealish's switch to Manchester City. Lukaku has signed a five-year deal to head back to Stamford Bridge.

 

Lukaku's departure will come as a blow to Inter but does relieve some of the financial pressure on the Italian giants, as they needed to raise funds through player sales.

Achraf Hakimi has left to join Paris Saint-Germain, while Lautaro Martinez has also been touted as potentially leaving, though Inter would surely be loath to lose both of their forwards in the same transfer window.

Lukaku joined Everton on a permanent basis in 2014 after enjoying a stellar campaign on loan with the Toffees.

He had signed for the Blues as a teenager in 2011 from Anderlecht, though his first-team outings were limited before he went on to join West Brom on loan.

Lukaku became Everton's record Premier League goalscorer, netting 68 times before joining Manchester United for £75m in 2017. 

Despite a promising start at Old Trafford, Lukaku failed to find his best form under Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer allowed him to leave for Inter in 2019, a move that reignited his career.

Having thrived under Antonio Conte, Lukaku now rejoins Chelsea as one of the world's leading players at his position.

The new Premier League season has not even begun yet and we're already enjoying some enthralling narratives.

Beyond the mundane matter of who might win the league, who will beat the drop and how thick the VAR lines will be, there are some tantalising stories we'll be following closely in the coming weeks.

Below, Stats Perform takes a look at some of the big talking points...

 

Blue Benitez

Predicting football is often a fool's game – especially in an era when Lionel Messi no longer plays for Barcelona – but Rafael Benitez at Everton? Who saw that coming?

The Spaniard is back in the Premier League, two years after walking away from Newcastle United, having been tempted by the same project that won over Carlo Ancelotti before the lure of a Real Madrid return became too great.

Benitez was a fans' favourite at Newcastle, arguably as much as he was at Liverpool, where he reached two Champions League finals including the unforgettable triumph in Istanbul. His connection to the red half of Merseyside meant his decision to head to Goodison Park raised the eyebrows of some and the blood pressure of others. In fact, only one man has ever managed both clubs: William Edward Barclay, Everton's first boss in 1888 and Liverpool's manager from 1892. We'll forgive you if you don't remember.

The scrutiny on Benitez, who has recorded 11 wins against Everton in his coaching career, will be severe. He has the credentials, but if he cannot quickly prove he is the man to realise the dreams of owner Farhad Moshiri and challenge the 'big six', the pressure could become pretty uncomfortable.

 

Virgil return lifts Reds

For a while, it seemed everything would be okay. In the first 11 games after Virgil van Dijk was injured against Everton last October, Liverpool conceded just six goals and kept as many clean sheets. Perhaps the loss of the Netherlands colossus would not be quite so damaging.

Of course, as injuries in defence piled up and confidence in their title chances waned, Liverpool's season ended up being one of major disappointment even though a strong final few weeks saw them snatch a Champions League spot.

Van Dijk's impact cannot really be disputed: since his move to Anfield in January 2018, Liverpool have won 75.8 per cent of matches with the centre-back in the side and only 54.3 per cent without him. They average 2.4 points per game with him (compared with 1.9 without), and even score more goals on average (2.3 compared with 1.8) when he's playing. No wonder fans began to count down the days to his return.

On Saturday, we can finally expect to watch Van Dijk in competitive action again, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he is fit to start the season. He could even begin his partnership with new signing Ibrahima Konate against Norwich City at Carrow Road. How Liverpool's campaign progresses over the opening few weeks, and how Van Dijk's return goes, might just tell us whether another title tilt is on the cards.

 

Rom-ember us?

Two of the biggest transfers in this pre-season have seen stars returning to England: Jadon Sancho, who finally got his Manchester United move for £72.9million a year after Borussia Dortmund had demanded a sizeably bigger sum; and Romelu Lukaku, who is heading to Chelsea for roughly £93m.

Sancho left Manchester City for the Bundesliga as a teenager and promptly became one of Europe's standout attacking players, with 50 goals and 57 assists in 137 appearances. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a player to get fans on their feet, and he's almost certainly found it: Sancho completed 48 multi take-ons (beating more than one player with a dribble) in the Bundesliga, at least 14 more than any other player in his time in Germany.

For Lukaku, it's a case of unfinished business at Chelsea, the club he left back in 2014. The standout performer for Inter last season, with 30 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, he propelled his side to their first Serie A title since 2010 before taking up the chance to return to Stamford Bridge, where a consistent goalscorer could be decisive to their Premier League title hopes.

Sancho and Lukaku initially struggled to convince managers to give them a shot as youngsters in the Premier League. They return as elite players determined to prove a point. Given the costs involved, the pressure will be on both to perform – and quickly.

 

Did Jack hammer Harry's City hopes?

Manchester City are not exactly frugal in the transfer market, but rarely will they willingly pay over the odds for an individual. That's what made their willingness to spend £100million on Jack Grealish, a player with 12 senior international caps and zero Champions League experience, a touch surprising.

This is not to suggest Grealish is not a good player, of course. This is a man who was involved in a remarkable 376 open-play attacking sequences over the past two seasons for Aston Villa, a team who finished 17th and 11th in those campaigns. It's just notable that Pep Guardiola felt it was warranted to smash City's transfer record by nearly £40m to sign yet another midfielder, especially given what's going on – or not going on – with Harry Kane.

Kane was expected to be City's marquee signing in this window but, as of now, his future is unclear. He is finally due to return to Tottenham training this week but whether he is involved against City in their opening game is harder to know. And if City were willing to spend nine figures on Grealish, you can expect Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to demand top dollar for last term's golden boot winner, who has three years left on his contract.

Will City stump up the cash? Will Kane try his best to force Spurs' hand? Will he be staying in north London for at least a few months more, his form undimmed, the goals flowing as normal? It will be fascinating to watch.

 

Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker and are closing in on their man.

The European champions had been linked with Borussia Dortmund's prolific Norway international Erling Haaland.

But have turned their attention to Inter striker Romelu Lukaku, with two bids reportedly rejected last week.

 

TOP STORY - LUKAKU TO COMPLETE CHELSEA MOVE

Lukaku will finalise his £97.5m (€115m) move from Inter to Chelsea after linking up with the Blues, reports Sky Sports.

The report claims the Belgium international flew into London on Wednesday evening, after a stop in Monte Carlo.

Lukaku had already undergone the first part of his medical and agreed in principle to the deal, with the paperwork being sorted with lawyers before he inks the five-year deal worth £200,000 (€236,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- As the dominoes fall, Edin Dzeko is set to join Inter from Roma with a contract agreed until June 2023 according to Fabrizio Romano.

- Sky Sports reports that Real Madrid are monitoring Chelsea's Germany defender Antonio Rudiger . Madrid lost centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane this off-season.

- Roma head coach Jose Mourinho will speak with Chelsea forward Tammy Abraham on Thursday to try to convince him to join the Eternal City club. According to The Mirror. Chelsea and Roma have agreed terms on a £34m (€40m) deal.

- Sky in Italy claims Inter have tabled a €12m bid for PSV Eindhoven right-back Denzel Dumfries, although the Dutch club reportedly want €14m for the Netherlands international.

- Inter are also interested in Napoli skipper Lorenzo Insigne, according to Sky in Italy. The Serie A champions are trying to see if they can sign the Italy international, whose contract expires next year, for €25m.

- Arsenal are in advanced talks with Sheffield United to sign goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, according to Football London.

- Sunsport reports Manchester United are finally expected to unveil Varane as a new signing from Real Madrid on Thursday.

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