• McCormack closing in on Northampton return

    Northampton's Alan McCormack is closing in on a return to action ahead of his side's League Two clash with Morecambe on Saturday.

    17 Jan 2020, 15:19 CET

    The midfielder rejoined training ahead of the Cobblers'FA Cup third round tie at Burton Albion but was not fit enough to feature. Manager Keith Curle will be without forward Harry Smith, who is resigned to a lengthy lay-off after incurring an ankle injury during Boxing Day's Crawley clash. Shaun McWilliams suffered a knee injury during the same fixture and is also set for a significant spell on the sidelines. Morecambe are likely to field the reshuffled squad that ended their four-match winless run with a 2-1 victory at Port Vale on Tuesday. New signings Ryan Cooney,Toumani Diagouraga,Jordan Slew and Adam Phillips have improved the fortunes of the struggling club and are probable squad members again. New loan goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi is available for the fixture, having joined the Shrimps on a half-season deal from Blackpool on Wednesday. The 25-year-old will have to usurp first-choice keeper Mark Halstead to break into the starting XI, however.

  • Venture primed for Peter Marsh test

    17 Jan 2020, 15:18 CET

    Evan Williams believes Prime Venture is at the top of his game ahead of his relatively swift return to action in the Peter Marsh Chase.

    The nine-year-old was last seen finishing fourth in a gruelling renewal of the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow and is sent back into battle little over three weeks later at Haydock.

    With the trainer’s daughter Isabel Williams claiming 7lb, Prime Venture will carry less than 10st on Merseyside and the Llancarfan handler felt it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

    “It wouldn’t be the normal thing to do – running one so quick after a race like the Welsh Grand National – but he does seem to have come out of it bouncing,” said Williams.

    “He’s fresh and happy and he’s at the right at end of the weights, so we’re keen to give it a go.

    “It might come too quick, but that would be the only negative. I think the ground, trip and track will be fine for him.

    “You never really know until you run them, but the way he seems to have come out of Chepstow is almost too good to be true.”

    Anthony Honeyball is hoping a long-term plan can come to fruition for his mud-loving mare Midnight Tune.

    The daughter of Midnight Legend has won her last two starts at Uttoxeter and Exeter, and steps up in class for the hat-trick bid.

    Honeyball said: “We entered in the mares’ hurdle at Ascot on Saturday, just because she ran it two years ago and ran the worst race of her life before winning a Grade Two next time.

    “It was sort of unfinished business, but the Peter Marsh has always been the plan.

    “Since she’s jumped a fence, we always thought the Tommy Whittle or the Peter Marsh would suit as it would play to all her strengths. It is a big test, but we’re happy to have a go.

    “We ran her over two miles last time and I know she was odds on, but the second has come out and won since, so it wouldn’t have done her any harm just sharpening up a little bit.

    “We think she’s got a good chance.”

    The weights are headed by Brian Ellison’s stable stalwart Definitly Red.

    The 11-year-old safely negotiated the Grand National fences when fourth in last month’s Becher Chase at Aintree and a second tilt at the world’s most famous steeplechase is very much on the agenda.

    “Last year we tried to keep him fresh for the Gold Cup. We took him up to Kelso for a two-horse race, but it didn’t work out. This year we’re aiming at the National and he’ll run here and might head up to Kelso before Aintree,” said Ellison.

    “We’ve taken him to the Cotswold Chase (at Cheltenham) before, but that’s a hard slog and we thought he’d be better off in a handicap.

    “He ran well in the Becher, he can carry big weights and he can go through this sort of ground better than if it’s tacky.”

    Sandy Thomson has high hopes for Geronimo following his successful reappearance at Newcastle four weeks ago.

    The chestnut gelding disappointed in the Scottish Grand National last spring, but got his career back on track with an authoritative display at Gosforth Park.

    Thomson said: “He deserves to be there, I think he’ll like the ground and he jumps and stays, so we’ll see how we get on.

    “It’s great he’s progressed this far and it’s great we’ve got him back, as it was touch and go for a while after the Scottish National.

    “We’ll take our chance and find out how good he is.”

    Harry Fry’s Acting Lass, the David Pipe-trained Champers On Ice and Vintage Clouds from Sue Smith’s yard also feature.

  • Liverpool welcome back Fabinho and Matip for Man Utd showdown

    Marcus Rashford is a major doubt for the Red Devils.

    17 Jan 2020, 15:15 CET

    Liverpool midfielder Fabinho and defender Joel Matip return to the squad for the visit of Manchester United after lengthy absences.

    The Brazil international has been out since the end of November with an ankle problem, while centre-back Matip has not played since the last meeting with United in October due to a knee issue, but both have trained this week.

    Defender Dejan Lovren (hamstring) is set to return on Monday but no comeback date has yet been set for midfielders James Milner (hamstring) and Naby Keita (groin).

    Marcus Rashford is a major doubt for the trip to Anfield.

    The England striker aggravated a back injury during an aborted comeback against Wolves in midweek and is unlikely to feature in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans.

    Luke Shaw is also a doubt after missing the Wolves game with a hamstring injury and Eric Bailly is unlikely to be risked, while Paul Pogba, Marcos Rojo, Scott McTominay are all still out.

    Liverpool provisional squad: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Salah, Firmino, Mane, Adrian, Williams, Matip, Fabinho, Lallana, Minamino, Shaqiri, Origi.

    Manchester United provisional squad: De Gea, Romero, Williams, Wan-Bissaka, Dalot, Young, Jones, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, Fred, Garner, Gomes, Matic, Chong, Pereira, James, Mata, Chong, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford.

  • Klopp: Moving Africa Cup of Nations to January a ‘catastrophe’ for Liverpool

    17 Jan 2020, 15:08 CET

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes the decision to move the Africa Cup of Nations back to its traditional January slot is a “catastrophe” for the club.

    The tournament was scheduled to be hosted by Cameroon in the summer of 2021, which already clashed with the expanded Club World Cup – of which the Reds are currently champions – but has been switched because of concerns over the climate in the country in July.

    That is likely to mean Klopp will be without Senegal’s Sadio Mane, Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Guinea’s Naby Keita for some or all of the six-week period.

    “The African Cup of Nations going back to January is, for us, a catastrophe,” said the Liverpool manager, who claims the decision will affect the club’s transfer policy.

    “We will not sell Sadio, Mo or Naby now because they have a tournament in January and February – of course not.

    “But if you have to make a decision about bringing in a player, it is a massive one because before the season you know for four weeks you don’t have them.

    “That’s a normal process and as a club you have to think about these things.”

    Klopp has been a long-time, outspoken critic of a bloated and often chaotic fixture schedule which has what he feels are unnecessary clashes at both international and domestic level.

    There are so many things to sort but all these guys never find time to sit around one table and make a general schedule

    Over the last month the Liverpool manager has been vocal in his opposition to the festive calendar, two-legged Carabao Cup semi-finals and FA Cup replays, in addition to the farcical clash between the Club World Cup in Qatar and Carabao Cup quarter-final which forced the Reds to field a youth team in the defeat at Aston Villa.

    However, he still expects his comments to fall on deaf ears.

    “It is like the biggest waste of time ever. ‘The Moaner from Liverpool’ or whatever is again on track,” he added.

    “As long as nothing changes I will say it all the time. It is because it is about the players, not one second about me.

    “There are so many things to sort but all these guys never find time to sit around one table and make a general schedule.

    “All these different games to play and no break for the players. Let’s respect that, but if you have that break don’t make a replay in this break. This would help massively.”

    Klopp also believes the proliferation of fixtures contributed to the hamstring injury suffered by Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane, which could rule him out of Euro 2020.

    The national team captain underwent surgery on a ruptured tendon last weekend and the Reds boss hopes that may be the wake-up call the English authorities need.

    “I feel massively for Harry Kane, I now hear he may not be in the Euros,” said the Liverpool manager.

    “For the first time some English people in the FA may think ‘Oh, too many games maybe’.

    “Something has to happen for them to really start thinking about it.”

    Klopp’s runaway Premier League leaders host Manchester United on Sunday, a match which will see the return of long-term injury absentees Fabinho and Joel Matip.

    There has been a clarion call for fans to reprise their welcome of the team coaches for their visit of their arch-rivals but Merseyside Police have played down any concerns of a repeat of the scenes when Manchester City’s bus was pelted with objects in April 2018.

    “As with any match, a comprehensive and appropriate policing operation has been put in place ahead of Sunday’s game and we have liaised with both clubs and their supporter groups,” said Chief Superintendent Matt Boyle in a statement to the PA news agency.

    “We are working to ensure this game can be enjoyed safely by all as well as minimising any disruption to local residents and roads.”

    There will be a heavy police presence around the ground but that is only following standard procedure for a match of this profile and no special measures have been put in place.

  • Zinedine Zidane expects Barcelona to be the Real deal under Quique Setien

    Ernesto Valverde was sacked on Monday, despite the Catalan club sitting top of LaLiga.

    17 Jan 2020, 15:06 CET

    Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane expects Barcelona to be just as competitive under new boss Quique Setien – and accepts working in the spotlight is all part of the job.

    Despite Barcelona being top of LaLiga, the Catalan club announced on Monday evening that Ernesto Valverde had been sacked and replaced by Setien.

    Former Athletic Bilbao and Espanyol boss Valverde had guided Barca to LaLiga titles in each of his two full seasons at the helm, and also delivered both the Spanish Super Cup and Copa del Rey.

    Los Blancos will return to domestic action after winning the Spanish Super Cup final with a 4-1 penalty shootout victory over rivals Atletico Madrid in Saudi Arabia.

    Zidane’s side are behind Barca only on goal difference as they prepare for Saturday’s visit of Sevilla.

    The Frenchman did not want to be drawn on the background of Valverde’s departure – but understands all too well the pressures which a manager of a leading club has to contend with.

    “I’m not going to get into whether or not I understand it. I’m sorry for him. He’s a coach who has shown how good he is, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Zidane said.

    “As coaches at clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona, we know where we are at and that isn’t going to change.

    “If I lose a couple of games I’m going to get criticised, as I did a month-a-half ago. You can only try to give 100 per cent.”

    Zidane feels Barca will continue to provide a strong challenge with 61-year-old former Real Betis boss Setien at the helm.

    “I expect a competitive Barcelona team under him,” Zidane said at a press conference, reported by Spanish media outlet AS. “They will do their job and we will do ours.”

    Real are on an unbeaten run of 16 matches in all competitions, having lost just once in LaLiga so far this season.

    Zidane has called for continued focus after their successful Saudi Arabia trip.

    “We are not going to change our mentality because we won the Spanish Super Cup. We are training and working well because the season is very long,” the Real Madrid boss said.

    “We want to continue demonstrating what we are doing on the pitch against a Sevilla team who will make it difficult.”

    Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema all missed the Super Cup final, while defender Sergio Ramos will be monitored due to an ankle problem.

    Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui returns to his former club, having replaced Zidane during June 2018 only to be replaced by Santiago Solari just four months later.

    Lopetegui, though, maintains focus should be on the pitch.

    “It may be customary for them to remember a coach or a player on their return, but nothing further,” he said, quoted on the Sevilla website.

    “The spotlight will be on the game and on how the players are shown on the pitch.”

    Forward Youssef En-Nesyri could feature after his 20million euro (£17.1m) move from Leganes.

    Lopetegui added: “We are excited and ambitious to play a good game and go for the three points.”

  • Liverpool boss Klopp aims another subtle dig at Man Utd tactics

    17 Jan 2020, 15:01 CET

    Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp insists games against Manchester United have been “strange” recently, harking back to previous years when “both teams try to win it”. After the 1-1 draw with United earlier in the season Klopp criticised Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactics, claiming they “only defend”. Solskjaer insisted he took Klopp’s comments “as a compliment”, and the German boss claimed it was “not a criticism”, but reaffirmed his views. “I don’t know about results but in games with United and Liverpool, there have been good times for both.” Klopp said. “Not always one clear fave. Both teams try to win it. Last two years away games were strange. I don’t know if I said United always defend but I probably did. True. “Against Spurs we had 80% possession after 70 mins, that is not normal. I don’t say [Man Utd] only counter-attack and it is not a criticism just a description. “I think the majority of the time we face teams who set up [defensively]. We always try to dominate and be creative and offensive. It only works if we use the full size of the pitch. It makes you vulnerable when lose it so we have to make sure we don’t lose it. “The better the team and players the more important it is to focus on this. We have analysed all the games. How can we know how they will set up? The difference between playing at Old Trafford and Anfield is massive, we have to show that. It’s a football game.   We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.  

  • Six EFL managers failing to live up to expectations

    This feature includes two managers in the play-offs and another couple just a point outside. Ouch.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:59 CET

    After six EFL managers defying expectations this season comes another half-dozen who are falling short of their objectives. Oh, Scott. E…   Lee Johnson (Bristol City) He may be one of the longest-serving managers in the EFL, having started his Ashton Gate stewardship in 2016, but another season of missed opportunities and marginal losses means this could be another wasted year in the Robins’ pursuit of a first top-flight campaign in 40 years. Johnson’s underperformance comes not in the transfer market, nor in knowing how to win games. It comes in that this season, like so many previously, an inherent lack of consistency could cost the Avon side their coveted Premier League place. Now in a season when the Championship is littered with average sides and the mantra that ‘anything could happen’ is a negative, rather than take the initiative, City have crumbled under another wave of inconsistency. In this less than stellar second-tier season, just two batches of back-to-back wins will not secure a play-off place. Given the potential of this side, that is unforgivable.   Paul Cook (Wigan Athletic) For almost a decade, Wigan Athletic were a solid Premier League side whose slide into constant relegation battles towards the end of their top-flight stay proved the Latics could not sustain top-tier status. That they have tasted two further relegations followed by immediate returns to the Championship since 2013 is damming: the Lancashire outfit cannot establish their status in any division. The fact that Wigan look destined for a third relegation from the second tier in half a decade shows that Liverpudlian Paul Cook has been unable to improve Wigan past what they were upon his 2017 arrival: too good for League One, not good enough for the Championship. For a man whose gruff voice and appearance belie his previous successes prior to taking his place in the DW Stadium hotseat, to have a campaign where their top scorer with five goals is centre back Chey Dunkley and for no striker to have more than two to their tally spells out relegation. It could have been so much better.   Scott Parker (Fulham) A managerial novice perhaps, but greater things were expected of former England captain Parker’s first full season in the Craven Cottage dugout. On paper, Fulham’s is by far the strongest starting XI, particularly beyond the defensive line. An attack consisting of players many a Premier League club could do worse than sign is performing at a relatively average level, hitting 41 goals in 27 games. By comparison, 15th-placed near-neighbours QPR have netted 46 times in the same amount of matches. Being fourth and seven points shy of the automatic places is not to be sniffed at, but Parker’s promising stint in charge at the end of last season has failed to continue in the permanent role. While Parker’s playing career was largely premised on his world-class ability to read the game, Fulham’s lack of Plan B has seen the Cottagers come unstuck on multiple occasions this season. Much like Darren Moore at West Brom last campaign, a play-off semi-final defeat may not be enough to see Parker receive a second bite at the promotion cherry.   Pep Clotet (Birmingham City) The first – and only – foreign manager to make it onto this list may well be in his last spell as a number one, having failed to build on initial promise when taking over from former chief and friend Garry Monk at St Andrew’s. The Spaniard has flitted between managerial and assistant posts since 2001, but it is in the latter where he has tasted the most success. Getting the top job in the second city originally did not come with the weight of much expectation, but a decent start against a perennially difficult backdrop at the Blues had fans believing there was much more to come from their former number two. Heavy defeats to Swansea and Nottingham Forest tempered expectations further, but wins at Brentford and at home to Barnsley, Stoke City and Middlesbrough suggested a brighter future than six-game winless runs and threats of relegation battles, especially with a potential points deduction on the horizon. Should Birmingham fall closer to the drop, a better manager than Clotet would be required.   Kenny Jackett (Portsmouth) A League One promotion specialist in charge of one of the deepest, best-funded and most well-supported clubs the third tier has ever seen? What could go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out. Portsmouth’s promotion-chasing season in 2018/19 went pear shaped around the New Year, while this season has been a near-continual hangover from that eventual disappointment. Only performing to the polar opposite of this time in 2019, will Jackett be able to avoid getting his coat on the way out of the Fratton Park door? His is a squad balanced finely from back to front, with one of League One’s most dangerous marksmen in John Marquis, two of its finest and most tenacious wingers in Marcus Harness and Ronan Curtis, and a great defensive unit. But like so many others on this list, finding consistency has proven a problem for the south coast outfit in their attempts to go north through the divisions. Jackett may well pay the price if that doesn’t change in the near future.   Ryan Lowe (Plymouth Argyle) Level on points with the team in the automatic promotion places? Check. In the midst of their greatest run of form in two years? Check. The most controversial entry on this list? Double check. And yet, Lowe’s inclusion here is perhaps the most obvious. By no means is Lowe and his band of Bury men doing a bad job at Home Park; they are in fact looking set for a great run at an immediate return to League One. Goal difference alone is all that keeps the Pilgrims from an automatic promotion place instead of the Michael Duff-inspired Cheltenham Town, but for a manager and squad who were promoted with a club no longer in existence, greater things were expected at a much better run side. Pre-season predictions of romping home to the League Two title at a canter have been made to look premature and foolish. Cruelly for Lowe, only the highest high of first place would represent meeting expectations this time around. Nathan Spafford is on Twitter  

  • Hodgson left with mixed injury news ahead of Palace’s trip to Manchester City

    17 Jan 2020, 14:59 CET

    Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson has been left with mixed news on the injury front after Max Meyer was ruled out of Saturday’s trip to Manchester City but Joel Ward will be back in the squad.

    German midfielder Meyer sustained an ankle injury during the 1-1 draw with Arsenal last weekend when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang caught him late and was sent off.

    He will be absent for the clash with Pep Guardiola’s side but right-back Ward is back training and available following a knee injury picked up at the end of November.

    Boss Hodgson said: “We were hoping to recover Max Meyer but that’s not been possible, so we’re one further player down.

    “But Joel Ward, who’s been missing for a long period, returns. Scott Dann of course returned before the last game.

    “There are still a lot of players from the intended first-team down and the bench will be made up largely of players from the Under-23s squad.”

    It makes the meeting with Premier League champions City even more daunting despite winning there 3-2 last season.

    Hodgson added: “We need to go there in full humility and to understand we will be confronted with a team which is one of the very best in Europe and quite capable of winning the Champions League.

    “When I look at their bench and I compare it to what ours will look like, it will be a little bit frightening in terms of what they can do if they want to change the game.”

    Given Palace have captain Luka Milivojevic (suspension), Mamadou Sakho, Patrick Van Aanholt (both hamstring), Meyer (ankle), Jeffrey Schlupp (hip), Andros Townsend (groin) and Christian Benteke (muscle) unavailable for Saturday’s game, it has heightened the need for reinforcements this month.

    Yet the south London club have so far only managed to bring in Cenk Tosun on loan from Everton, with a move for Tottenham right-back Kyle Walker-Peters seemingly stalling.

    “No update,” Hodgson replied when asked about the Spurs defender. “There was initial contact I think between the clubs and the suggestion was made and one I was behind.

    “It would have been a good move for us I think, but as far as I know nothing is happening and I’m not sure what Tottenham’s intention with Kyle Walker-Peters is.”

    The 72-year-old also rejected suggestions Benteke could leave on a loan deal to Bordeaux, or Schalke midfielder Nabil Bentaleb could join Palace this month.

    Midfielder Victor Camarasa also saw his season-long loan at SE25 end early this week, with the Spaniard returning to Real Betis and signing for Alaves.

    “Going into the window we were hoping for two strikers and full-back cover at right and left-back,” Hodgson explained.

    “Potentially extra cover in midfield, maybe a different type of player to the player Victor is and someone who could take his place in the squad.

    “We were looking to research those possibilities but nothing has happened so far other than the fact we have got Cenk on loan from Everton.”

  • Can you name every British and Irish player to appear in Serie A since 1990?

    17 Jan 2020, 14:54 CET

    Twenty-one players from Great Britain and Ireland have played in Serie A since 1990 – but can you name them all? The likes of John Charles and Jimmy Greaves blazed the trail by moving to Italy in the 60s, but your challenge is to name all those that have done it in the past 30 years. You’ve got 10 minutes. To help, we’ve given you the clue of the clubs they represented and the years they played in Serie A. It’s also worth noting they’ve been ordered alphabetically. Good luck and don’t forget to tweet us your score @planetfutebol. Note: If you’re having problems attempting the quiz, play it on the Sporcle website.


    More quizzes

    Can you name the top scorer for every Serie A season since 1990? Can you name every country to compete at a FIFA World Cup? Can you name every team to compete in a Champions League final? Can you name the top scorers for these 25 European nations?

  • Mooy’s pressing for a Brighton return

    Midfielder Aaron could line up against Aston Villa.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:48 CET

    Brighton have midfielder Aaron Mooy fit and in contention to return in Saturday’s Premier League clash at home to Aston Villa.

    The Australia international missed the defeat at Everton last time out with a knee issue but is in line to feature at the AMEX Stadium, although Dan Burn (broken collarbone) and Jose Izquierdo (knee) are long-term absentees.

    Seagulls boss Graham Potter is confident Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Shane Duffy and Adam Webster will all recover from slight knocks while Solly March could be involved after playing 45 minutes for the Under-23s as he continues to step up his return following groin surgery.

    Pepe Reina is likely to be handed his Aston Villa debut for their game at the Amex.

    The former Liverpool goalkeeper has joined on loan from AC Milan until the end of the season after Tom Heaton’s long-term knee injury.

    Wesley is out with his own season-ending knee problem while John McGinn (fractured ankle), Keinan Davis (hamstring) and Jonathan Kodjia (illness) are sidelined.

    Brighton provisional squad: Ryan, Dunk, Webster, Montoya, Bernardo, Bissouma, Trossard, Propper, Gross, Maupay, Alzate, Button, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Jahanbakhsh, Connolly, March, Mooy.

    Aston Villa provisional squad: Reina, Nyland, Kalinic, Guilbert, Engels, Chester, Konsa, Mings, Taylor, Elmohamady, Luiz, Nakamba, Drinkwater, Targett, Grealish, Trezeguet, El Ghazi, Hourihane, Jota, Lansbury, Vassilev.

  • Daniel Farke believes seven wins would save Norwich

    17 Jan 2020, 14:48 CET

    Daniel Farke believes Norwich need to win seven of their remaining 16 matches to ensure Premier League survival, as they prepare to host fellow strugglers Bournemouth on Saturday.

    The Canaries are currently rooted to the foot of the table, and without a league win since a surprise 2-0 victory at Everton on November 23.

    Norwich’s opponents on Saturday have also struggled recently, with just one win from their last 11 league matches, but Farke believes his side will still go into the game as underdogs.

    On the importance of the upcoming match, the Canaries boss said: “A victory is always good for the confidence and the table, but if you then lose the next game everything goes down.

    “We need to win seven of our last 16. It’s a huge task but one we want to fulfil.”

    Norwich have made two signings so far this transfer window, attacking midfielder Ondrej Duda on loan from Hertha Berlin and Lukas Rupp from Hoffenheim.

    When asked about the new signings, Farke said: “Lukas is a perfect fit for now and the long-term.

    “No one can predict if Ondrej will be world class for us, we can’t guarantee he knows the league like (Leicester’s) James Maddison, so we have to be creative.

    “Duda has potential to bring us what we need, if it works out great for him and us, if not we haven’t risked the future of the club by spending lots of money on him.

    “Lukas is in good physical shape but can’t be fully adapted having only been here a few days. He and Ondrej are both fit and available for tomorrow.”

    Teemu Pukki is expected to return to the fold for the Bournemouth clash following a hamstring problem, with Ben Godfrey also returning from a knee injury.

    Josip Drmic and Adam Idah, who hit a hat-trick on his debut against Preston in the FA Cup, are also available.

  • Tizzard in no rush with Thistlecrack

    Former King George hero ‘still slightly lame’.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:38 CET

    Thistlecrack will not be rushed back into action as the problem which forced him to miss the King George VI Chase still holds him up.

    Winner of the Christmas highlight at Kempton in 2016, Colin Tizzard’s star turned 12 on New Year’s Day and is in the veteran stage of his illustrious career.

    The leading staying hurdler of his generation before having his attentions switched to fences, a series of setbacks have prevented him really reaching the heights which once looked likely – not forgetting he won the King George as a novice.

    “He didn’t go to the King George because he had a hot foot, but nothing developed out of that,” Tizzard told Sky Sports Racing.

    “He’s still slightly lame, well, he’s fine when he walks but nods when he trots a little bit, so we’ll just look after him for a while.

    “We’re definitely not going to abuse him because he’s been a fantastic horse.

    “If he comes right he can have a spring campaign and if he doesn’t then we’ll have to decide.”

  • Griffiths is hungry to play for Celtic – Lennon

    The 29-year-old Scotland striker had a lengthy spell out earlier in the season.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:37 CET

    Leigh Griffiths has told Celtic boss Neil Lennon that he is hungry for action.

    The 29-year-old Scotland striker had a lengthy spell out earlier in the season due to injuries and personal problems and has not started a Hoops match since a meaningless Europa League group game against Cluj in Romania on December 12, with five subsequent substitute appearances last month.

    Griffiths’ future was subject to speculation when Poland Under-21 forward Patryk Klimala signed a four-and-half year deal from Jagiellonia Bialystok earlier this week, ostensibly as back up to number one striker Odsonne Edouard, with attacker Vakoun Bayo also at the club recovering from injury.

    However, ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round tie against Partick Thistle on Saturday, boss Lennon was asked if any other strikers were on the horizon.

    “We have Odsonne in and Griff and Griff is looking good,” said the Hoops boss, who confirmed Celtic have agreed a deal with Israeli side Bnei Yehuda to sign midfielder Ismaila Soro.

    “He had a good Dubai trip and trained well again this week so maybe not.

    “We will see how things go over the next few weeks.

    “I can’t comment on speculation surrounding any player really.

    “There has been a lot in the last few months about Griff.

    “But he is hungry and he wants to play and he has made that pretty clear to me.”

    Reports claim Ivory coast striker Bayo has asked to leave the club on loan for the second half of the season.

    Lennon said: “I have no inclination about that at all.

    “Bayo has had a few injuries but he is just coming back from a long-term injury. He is back in training now.

    “We are hoping there will be a couple of deals done this week where people either go on loan or go permanently.

    “There will be two or three players maybe going to leave.”

    Soro, 21, who was born in the Ivory Coast, played in Moldova and Belarus before moving to Israel in 2018.

    “I think a deal has been agreed,” Lennon added.

    “We are waiting on paperwork now so hopefully that can be resolved over the next few days.

    “It will be a good. He is a good player, strong, technically very good, quick across the ground, hungry.

    “He is like a number six, very powerful. Gets the ball back, good close control, quite smart with the passes but at that age he still has a bit of work to do in terms of his tactical awareness.

    “We like what we saw. We will give him time to adapt but I think he can play some games between now and the end of the season.

    “We have done a lot of work on him. We done a lot of work on Klimala and he is in the building.

    “It is good to get a couple of players in to freshen things up a bit.

    “It gives a lift. Training has been good and the boys are itching to get back into it.

    “We had a good week in Dubai and a good week this week so looking forward to the game tomorrow.”

  • Wolves midfielder Connor Ronan joins Blackpool on loan

    The 21-year-old was on loan in Slovakia before his temporary which to the League One club.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:33 CET

    Blackpool have signed Wolves midfielder Connor Ronan on loan for the rest of the season.

    The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international has made 13 first-team appearances for Wolves and most recently spent time with DAC Dunajska Streda in Slovakia’s top tier.

    Speaking to Blackpool’s official website, manager Simon Grayson said: “A lot of people speak highly about him and he’s had some good experience out in Slovakia, as well as internationally for Ireland at under-21 level.

    “We’re looking for him to get on the ball, pick a pass and add something different to the squad.”

    Ronan, 21, said: “I just want to help the team wherever I can and try and help the team get back to where it belongs.”

  • Sergio Aguero (and his powerful, meaty buttocks) is a legend

    You can question the hair but not the brilliance. Aguero is wonderfully simple and simply wonderful.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:33 CET

    Who’s this week’s hero, Johnny? This week’s hero is a 31-year-old Argentinian striker who is in his ninth season in the Premier League with Manchester City and has also played for Independiente and Atletico Madrid. This week he scored a Premier League record 12th hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of Aston Villa. A little bandy of chunky leg, a thoroughly unglamorous player, he does very few interviews and does not seek the limelight. He simply scores goals; lots and lots of goals. With liquid dark chocolate brown eyes, he has sported some notorious haircuts that look like they were done by the council (yes, it’s an old Julian Clary joke), sometimes favouring the sort of bleach job that looks more the result of getting your mother to do it over the sink in the kitchen with some Domestos after she’s had a bottle of wine. He was married to Gianinna Maradona, the daughter of the legendary handballer, for four years. Lionel Messi is his son’s godfather. Has a tattoo on his arm of his name written in Tengwar, which is a form of writing invented by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Yeah, how do you like them literary apples? Oddly enough he does have some rather Hobbitty characteristics and it is easy to imagine he has very leathery pads on his feet. He was responsible for the most dramatic moment in recent top-flight history in scoring the last-minute goal that won City the title in 2012, about which he said: On such basic instincts are legends formed. That sentence could stand as a definition for his career. Remarkably for such a prolific striker, he doesn’t win awards and the feeling that he still flies a little under the radar is widespread. That’ll be Sergio Leonel Agüero del Castillo, then.   What have they done to deserve this then? His statistics are rather good and prove that he really is one of the stellar goalscorers of his generation. Obviously CR7 and Lionel Messi are on a different planet, but if they did not exist, Sergio’s numbers would look even more impressive. However, as usual, the Premier League propaganda virus which has been uploaded to all of our synapses, making us respond to any footballing event by defining it against the chronological parameters it has set, for absolutely no reason at all other than to aggrandise their brand, actually plays down his achievements. In the process of puffing up their brand by using their 27-year history as the blackboard on which to rewrite football history, they do not set any player’s achievements in the proper historical context. You can’t redefine 1992 as year zero, because it isn’t, but that is what they’ve done and what we’re all complicit in perpetuating. It fails to acknowledge player contributions before the league and outside of the league, which are often extensive. So the typical ‘in the Premier League era’ stats often understate achievements and do not provide accurate context. Because his 177 Premier League goals is just the start of it. Sergio has 274 league goals in his career, 373 club goals overall and 414 in total when you add in international strikes. He’s actually scored 249 goals for City so far. All of which goes to accidentally prove just what a phenomenal goalscorer Alan Shearer was on 283 club league goals and 260 in the Premier League. Aguero has also been an excellent international player, netting 41 for Argentina in 97 games at a time when the national side has been extremely variable in quality. And his assists numbers are not too shabby either. While he’s not suffered any major injuries, pretty much every campaign he’ll miss quite a few games, being out for between a week and a month and a half with recurring knee and hamstring problems in particular. One of those strikers who, when presented with the briefest of chances or when bearing down on goal, you simply never expect to miss. At 5' 8? he’s hardly the biggest physical presence and yet seems built of pig iron and gristle while being agile and a specialist in perpetual movement. He just never seems to stand still. Scores long-distance belters, occasional headers and plenty of penalties but mostly he’s a predator in the box and a specialist at the art of being in the right place at the right time and beating the defender to the ball by one stride. Chases the ball down like a dog in the park, seemingly transfixed on it. Has the sort of powerful, meaty buttocks that means he’s hard to knock off the ball and guarantees any shot has plenty of petrol on it. Has fast, small feet that you suspect could unpick a lock. Look at all his goals last year, marvel at his range of haircuts and see how many times he’s just there, just in the right place with those quick, well-developed little legs taking him ahead of the defence. That’s where his genius actually lies. Without great vision and timing, so many of these wouldn’t have been scored.   Anyone grumpy about it? Aston Villa can’t have been happy to see him last weekend. But he’s a player who no-one really seems to actively dislike and one whose talent is so nakedly wonderful it needs celebrating. It’s hard to take against a player who doesn’t have any side to him, who just turns up, does his job really well and goes home again. For a while it seemed he was set to be sidelined by Pep Guardiola who often benched him. But he wasn’t to be held down for long and proved he was an irresistible force who couldn’t be sacrificed. Many observers suggest he has actually improved his all-round game as a result of this challenge to keep his place. Guardiola, it is thought, would now be happy for him to stay on for another year or two beyond 2021. I guess you can’t replace guaranteed goals easily.   What the people say As befitting someone who is really good and impossible to take against, there was a big postbag this week with fans of all clubs queuing up to lavish praise on our man.

    ‘The most underrated player in Premier League history.’ ‘City’s most *loved* player.’ ‘An absolute machine.’ ‘Quite simply the best striker on the planet.’ ‘Under-rated. But as a City fan, a good thing. Let him do his job and let other people praise too quickly the over-hyped and the burnt-outs.’
    ‘If you think he’s good at goals, check out his runs when was playing alongside Forlan at Atlético Madrid.’ ‘Bizarrely and unfairly disrespected, almost hated, in Argentina, for being a member of the generation that promised so much and lost all those finals. Not his fault and they’re clearly wrong to hold it against him and all the others.’ ‘Simply incredible striker.’ ‘He seems to live football and nothing else, theres more hat trick balls in his apartment than sunlight.’ ‘Respected by rivals. Last season Salah said in an interview ‘Everyone is saying Aguero is having his best season but he only has 2 more goals than me’ and even many LFC fans came to Aguero’s defence saying Salah was disrespectful.’
    ‘Too cool for school. Occasionally looks like he can’t be arsed with the whole thing, then he’ll give himself a nanometre of space and ping one in the top corner. If he has kids, they’re going to be effing amazing at footie with those genes.’ ‘Divorced now, but imagine the pressure on his son: his dad is Sergio, grandad is Maradonna and godfather is Messi.’ ‘Any fan that says they wouldn’t like him at their club is either lying or delusional.’ ‘Never been so frightened of a player inside the box with the ball at his feet. Lethal.’ ‘An absolute hero. The scorer of the goal of 21st century English football has become the unlikely guardian of some very traditional values. A one club (in this country) man who has become part of the furniture at City and in our league. His very familiarity may be why he doesn’t win awards. A man who simply loves playing football and takes a childlike pleasure in scoring goals. By the way, he is greedy to an almost hilarious extent. His English is good enough to help him communicate amazing moments. “No shoot Vinny” is a dream quote for an extraordinary moment. A superstar who is far happier chatting to fans in Manchester city centre than to journalists. A foreign player who positively demands to play on Boxing Day and in cup competitions. I so remember him captaining City in the second leg of the League Cup semi final at Burton when we were 9-nil up. He was proud to lead the team out and treated the match and opposition with total respect. We will miss him so much when he’s gone but that may be some time in the future. He likes living where he does and is motivated by records. 300 goals for City is possible and he may still want more after that. A true great.’
    ‘Should be in every conversation for Premier League’s best ever striker. Underrated, in part, because he has not been a media darling or particularly flashy. He’s just pure effectiveness on the pitch.’ ‘Every time I had him in my fantasy team he got injured, if I’d steered clear he’d have broken Shearer’s record already. Best PL striker of the last decade hands down.’ ‘Responsible for the single most exciting football moment I’ve ever seen. Resulted in four of us (not City fans) piled on top of the one City fan in the room and shouting our heads off. I think I was 39 then. Felt like I was 10.’ ‘I had a season ticket to Atleti during his final years there, when Forlán was on the way out and Agüero was establishing himself as a real force. The lift he gave the crowd was special; people knew he was world class and to enjoy watching him at the Calderon while they could.’ ‘The fact that struck me is that he has scored 11 of his 12 PL hat-tricks since a United player did (van Persie in April 2013). Unfortunately facing him this weekend. Concerned of SE25.’
    ‘First time doing this and don’t know why I’m compelled over Aguero, but he’s great. Admire his changing his game under Pep when many would take the easy road and leave. Also, a mate of mine has his haircut by the same barber in Oldham! Random but cool!’ ‘He’s proof that if you do something so good for so long, people start to take it for granted and think it’s easy.’ ‘Great striker. Still suffering PTSD from Aguerooooooo. One of the worst (footballing) days of my life and not sure I’ll ever get over it. Can’t see the goal without feeling nauseous. Wish he’d played for United instead.’ ‘Although he’s an incredible player, he never lived up to his potential. If you watch him in Argentina and Spain, you could see he was a very different player. Did well adapting through his injury troubles.’ ‘He’s robotic in his efficiency but also graceful in how he hits the ball. And those piercing eyes. Those eyes tell every defender: ‘You’re f**ked’.’ ‘For what it’s worth, there are parallels with Shearer on how many injuries he’s come back from, and how he’s had to adapt his game as his career has progressed. What a player, long may he reign.’ ‘In hundreds of games from 1976 to 2013 I never saw 1 striker as determined as Aguero not to let defenders have time on the ball. I’ve never, ever seen anyone as good.’
      What does the future hold? His contract is due to expire in June 2021, by which time our man will be 33. As previously mentioned, the opportunity for him to stay on at City is there if he wants it, though it seems likely he’ll move on. He’s talked of going back to Independiente, though MLS might offer a final pay day or two. Given he’s on £13 million a year and must surely already have more money than it’d be possible to spend, perhaps that would be superfluous to his requirements. His choice probably relies on how good his fitness is by then. He really will take some replacing though – and sales of hydrogen peroxide in the northwest will certainly take a hit. As his manager has said: “He’s a legend, and it’s a part of history in the club. Aguero’s numbers speak for themselves – he is amazing.” John Nicholson We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.  

  • Ross Barkley is going nowhere, says Chelsea boss Lampard

    The midfielder has recently returned to action following a foot injury.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:32 CET

    Frank Lampard has insisted Ross Barkley is going nowhere despite West Ham admitting interest in signing the Chelsea midfielder on loan.

    Barkley has just shaken off a niggling foot injury and forced his way back into Chelsea’s first team picture, and impressed in the Blues’ 3-0 Premier League win over Burnley.

    Lampard criticised the 26-year-old earlier this season for lacking professionalism after a row with a taxi driver in Liverpool, but has now insisted Barkley remains central to his Stamford Bridge plans.

    Asked about Barkley being linked to a West Ham switch, Lampard said: “There’s no talk here of Ross Barkley going anywhere; he’s our player.

    “He’s played the last couple of games and done very well. I’ve got a lot of faith in Ross.

    “That was news I heard just like everyone else, but there’s absolutely no feeling towards that here. I’m very happy with him.”

    Inter Milan are understood to be pushing hard to sign Olivier Giroud this month, but Lampard insisted that no deal has been agreed with Chelsea.

    Former Blues manager Antonio Conte wants to link up with Giroud in Milan, but Lampard again hailed the World Cup-winner’s professionalism at Stamford Bridge.

    “If everything is right it might happen but it’s not, so whilst it’s not he’s our player,” said Lampard.

    “And the great thing about Ollie is that he’s got great experience and professionalism, and he’s been nothing but great with us.”

    Reece James signed a new Chelsea deal this week, committing himself to his home club until 2025.

    And Lampard hailed the 20-year-old full-back’s signature as a big coup for the Stamford Bridge club’s long-term future.

    “I rate him very highly, I knew him as a youth player in the academy here,” said Lampard.

    “I saw him on loan last year where he did fantastically well at Wigan.

    “I tried to get him to Derby but he couldn’t come in mid-season. But I admired him a lot. And then work with him, I feel the same, and even more so now he’s got his foot into the first team.

    “I think there’s a lot more to come from Reece James, a really talented player.

    “Like a lot of the younger players, he wants to learn, improve, train and do the right things. And he has that talent, so it’s great for the club that he’s signed for so long.”

    Lampard also revealed Chelsea are not on the brink of any January signings, despite the club casting around for new recruits this month.

    “There is nothing imminent, there aren’t people waiting in the wings that I don’t know about, or you don’t know about; so there’s no news on that front,” said Lampard.

    “I’m not going to be embarrassed by anything happening soon; there’s nothing.

    “What remains the same is that the window is open and if there’s anything when can do to improve us then we will attempt to do it. We are working on that, but also I’m very aware of how I want the squad to be and how much we must focus on what is our job in hand, which is winning matches.

    “We’ll keep working and there may be news. I’m not closing the door as such, but it has to be right, in January.”

  • Abramovich approves £120m bid for Chelsea 'statement signing'

    Abramovich is very keen on Jadon Sancho...

    17 Jan 2020, 14:31 CET

    Roman Abramovich is reportedly very keen on a move for Jadon Sancho and has given the green light for Chelsea to make a £120million bid for the Borussia Dortmund star. The Blues have explored the possibility of signing Sancho during the January transfer window but a deal now looks more likely to happen this summer. Reports in Germany claim that Borussia Dortmund are already targeting replacements for Sancho, who is expected to leave at the end of the season. Chelsea are frontrunners for the 19-year-old’s signature, with reports claiming that the west London club are close to finalising a £120 million deal. According to Duncan Castles on the Transfer Window Podcast, Abramovich and Chelsea’s director Marina Granovskaia are “very keen” on bringing Sancho to Stamford Bridge as they want to make a “statement signing”. Sancho has established himself as one of the best young wingers in Europe since joining Dortmund with 26 goals and 36 assists in 79 appearances. Chelsea have also been linked with a move for Moussa Dembele, though Lyon insisted the former Celtic striker is not for sale.   We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.

  • I'm free! 20 players with expiring deals allowed to discuss moves

    Cavani, Matuidi and Modric are among a host of players all free to talk to other clubs. And Inter seem to be in for most of them...

    17 Jan 2020, 14:29 CET

    Ashley Young no longer features on this list while he completes a move to Inter Milan but there are still plenty of top players approaching free agency who are allowed to speak to other clubs now. And Inter seem to be in for most of them…   Christian Eriksen Tottenham, 27, midfielder Might he re-sign? Nope. The Denmark playmaker wants away. What’s been said? “He played very well, very professional, which is what I expect from him. If his decision is to leave, then I think he has to leave with his head up. Fans, it’s always to respect, we have to respect, but the boy did it for us today.” – Jose Mourinho, January 2020 Clubs linked: Inter Milan, PSG, Manchester United   Willian Chelsea, 31, winger Might he re-sign? He probably will, yes. What’s been said? ”I have stated several times my wish is to stay at Chelsea. I like the club very much, I feel very welcomed here, as well as my family, and we love living in London. My agent and the club are talking and I hope we can have some good news soon.” – Willian, December 2019 Clubs linked: Barcelona, Juventus   Ryan Fraser Bournemouth, 25, winger Might he re-sign? It looks highly unlikely, though his form will have to improve if he is to have the options he did last summer. What’s been said? “Ryan’s situation is quite clear. There’s no change to it.” – Eddie Howe, January 2020. Clubs linked: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool   Thomas Meunier Paris Saint-Germain, 28, right-back Might he re-sign? It seems highly unlikely, despite remaining a regular starter for PSG. Meunier has always hedged his bets whenever he’s been asked… What’s been said? “I want to stay. We have been talking about a contract extension for a while, but there’s no offer on the table anymore. I’m ready to stay in Paris. Everybody knows.” Thomas Meunier, June, 2019 Clubs linked: Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal Dries Mertens Napoli, 32, forward Might he re-sign? Probably not. Napoli haven’t come to the negotiating table and they seem unlikely to meet Mertens’ demands for what is set to be his last big deal. What’s been said? For now we have not talked about it, but I’m 31. Maybe someone forgets because I look younger, bit I’m now an old man.” – Dries Mertens, October 2019 Clubs linked: Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Manchester United, Inter Milan   Edinson Cavani PSG, 32, forward Might he re-sign? It seems doubtful. Thomas Tuchel admits the fact Cavani isn’t playing as regularly as he might like is ‘sad’ but he ‘doesn’t have a solution tight now’ What’s been said? “He will stay in January. There are still discussions but for the moment, nothing concrete. We are not very worried about the contract extension. Edi will certainly have numerous opportunities, and above all, he will be free at the end of his contract. Edi still has three years to play at the highest level and he can play in any major team in Europe.” – Cavani’s agent, December 2019 Clubs linked: Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea

    Eric Bailly Man Utd, 25, centre-back Might he re-sign? Yes. United have the option of extending his contract by a further year so they could thrust the pen into his hand and make him scribble. What’s been said? “We don’t want players running down their deals. Eric might see his future differently at the end of the day. For the next year, at least, we will box him off and see how his playing time fares over the rest of this season.” – a ‘United source’ told The Sun, November 2019 Clubs linked: Arsenal   Nemanja Matic Man Utd, 31, midfielder Might he re-sign? Until recently, it seemed certain he would not. But injuries have given Matic more playing time and Solskjaer seems to trust him more now than he did earlier in the season. United may well still trigger the one-year option they hold. What’s been said? “United have some option to extend my contract, but we will see if the plans of the club match my plans. I couldn’t say anything more because I don’t really know either.” – Nemanja Matic, December 2019 Clubs linked: DC United, AC Milan   Mario Gotze Borussia Dortmund, 27, attacker Might he re-sign? Gotze has made only six starts this season and his prospects aren’t getting any better. He’ll probably leave. What’s been said? “It has not yet been decided. It is of course also the case with him that he would like to have more minutes. We are talking to Mario. I spoke to his father before Christmas. I spoke to him again in Marbella. We will surely get together in the spring and then make a final decision.” – Michael Zorc, January 2020 Clubs linked: Everton, Hertha Berlin, LA Galaxy, Liverpool, Cologne   Jose Callejon Napoli, 32, forward Might he re-sign? It seems unlikely. Napoli reportedly offered Callejon a two-year extension on similar money but the player wants a pay rise. What’s been said? “He can sign a new contract, but we don’t want to mess about… They made us an opening offer, but it didn’t satisfy the conditions of the player.” – Manuel Garcia Quilon, September, 2019 Clubs linked: AC Milan, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Espanyol   Giacomo Bonaventura AC Milan, 30, midfielder Might he re-sign? Quite possibly, yes. Milan are said to be keen to reach an agreement but the midfielder is represented by Mino Raiola so expect talks to drag on. What’s been said? Not much, actually. It seems Bonaventura has been focusing on his return from a serious knee injury and Raiola is chirping about other clients. Clubs linked: Fiorentina   Jan Vertonghen Tottenham, 32, centre-back Might he re-sign? Hard to say. It seems more likely now than it did prior to Jose Mourinho’s arrival and the manager would like to keep the Belgian. What’s been said? “I won’t answer… I feel like everything I say will affect it in one way or another, so I prefer not to answer. I’m a happy man and I love the guys. Life is good in London and at this great club, so that’s all I want to say.” – Jan Vertonghen, January 2020 Clubs linked: Ajax, Napoli   Blaise Matuidi Juventus, 32, midfielder Might he re-sign? He might, yes. Juve are said to be keen to keep Matuidi for at least another year while he remains a vital cog in their midfield. What’s been said? “All that talk in the papers of PSG was not true. Paris is always in my heart, I’ve been a fan of that club since I was little. Wearing their shirt was a dream come true, but I have always said I’m happy at Juve, one of the best clubs in the world. The competition for places at Juventus is strong, but he is up for the challenge and uses it to drive him on to be a better player.” – Blaise Matuidi – September 2019 Clubs linked: PSG, Manchester United   Pedro Chelsea, 32, winger Might he re-sign? It seems doubtful. Frank Lampard is focused on younger prospects and Pedro has played only 69 minutes in the Premier League since September. What’s been said? “If Barca call me, I’ll drop everything. There was a moment in pre-season when we played against Barca that, after talking with the coach, I saw a chance, but the door closed quickly. At this point, I don’t know what will happen to me, just that I’m contracted to Chelsea until the end of the season.” – Pedro, December 2019 Clubs linked: Barcelona, Inter Miami, NYCFC   Artem Dzyuba Zenit St. Petersburg, 31, forward Might he re-sign? Having hired Jorge Mendes as his agent, it seems the Russia striker has his heart set on a move abroad. What’s been said? “I signed a contract with Jorge Mendes and his company. Back in the winter transfer window last year, there was a chance for me to leave Zenit. I understand Everton were interested in my services. But I didn’t want to leave. Back then, we had a chance to win the Russian Superleague title, and we did so. So, I can say that I did the right thing. In the summer, I also hoped something would happen, but it didn’t. There were just talks, so I am now at Zenit and I am very pleased with that.” – Artem Dzyuba, September 2019 Clubs linked: Celtic, Inter Milan, Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves   Layvin Kurzawa PSG, 27, left-back Might he re-sign? Very unlikely since the 14-cap France international has hired new London-based agents in recent weeks and PSG have revealed the terms which they would require to sell this month. Arsenal are reported to be hot favourites. What’s been said? He’s very excited about his new agents… Clubs linked: Arsenal, Tottenham   Charles Aranguiz Bayer Leverkusen, 30, midfielder Might he re-sign? What’s been said? For certain he will not leave in the January transfer window,” he remarked in an interview with Chilean newspaper La Cuarta.“I know that Bayer Leverkusen are wanting to renew his contract but I do not think he will stay in Germany or to to play in South America, where I know there is interest from Brazilian club Internacional, a club where he feels at home. Charles could go to Inter or Paris Saint Germain, we will have to wait and see what happens.” – Aranguiz’s agent Andre Cury, December 2019 Clubs linked: Internacional, Inter Milan, PSG   Nacho Real Madrid, 30, defender Might he re-sign? The centre-back has always been a fringe player and he had options to leave last summer when he chose to renew for an extra year. This time, he is unlikely to stick around having started only four games this season. What’s been said? Nothing, it would seem. Clubs linked: Sevilla, Inter Milan, Man Utd   Luka Modric Real Madrid,  34, midfielder Might he re-sign? It seems doubtful since Modric is no longer first choice in the big games but he has previously stated his desire to retire at Real. That said, he also fancies Italy… What’s been said? “I like Italy, it’s close to Croatia. I watch Serie A because I have many national team-mates playing there. Then the Italians are fantastic and have a mentality similar to us Croats. We’ll see if one day I can play in Italy, I can’t talk about this because I’m a Real Madrid player, I like being in Real and for now I see my future only there.” – Luka Modric, December 2019 Clubs linked: DC United, Manchester United, Inter Milan   Éver Banega Sevilla, 31, midfielder Might he re-sign? Quite possibly. Banega’s options are perhaps not what they once were even a year ago and he is settled in Spain. What’s been said? “Seville is the best place I have felt whilst playing in Europe. I have not yet discussed my contract renewal with the club, but I am calm about the situation. I have told the club that I want to stay, and they know my intentions. My family is happy here and I want to keep my career going at the club.” – Ever Banega, November 2019 Clubs linked: Arsenal, Galatasaray, Fenerbahce We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.

  • Inter Milan yet to bid for Spurs midfielder Eriksen, says Mourinho

    Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho confirms Christian Eriksen will play against Watford on Saturday.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:28 CET

    Jose Mourinho says Inter Milan have yet to bid for Christian Eriksen and that the midfielder will play against Watford on Saturday.

    Reports suggested the Denmark international, who is in the last six months of his contract, was close to a move to the Serie A side, with his agent in Milan to broker a deal during the current transfer window.

    Mourinho, though, said Spurs have not even received an official offer as the situation looks set to rumble on.

    “You have to ask the agent and Inter Milan because they know more than me,” Mourinho said.

    “If they are confident, they are confident because they are ready to make us an offer, which didn’t happen yet.

    “So when I see people speaking, especially people with responsibilities speaking about it, I am a little bit surprised. That’s all I can say.

    “I think it’s normal that until January 31 his brain is not totally in focus. I think it’s a normal consequence of the situation.

    “I think it’s normal that a player doesn’t know very well what is going on, but I still don’t understand that optimism because, in this moment, for a few matches people are speaking about is Eriksen going?

    “Eriksen played his last match for the club, and the situation didn’t change, Eriksen plays tomorrow.”

    New signing Gedson Fernandes could also play at Vicarage Road following his loan move from Benfica this week and Mourinho is hopeful of doing more business before the end of the month.

    A striker is on the top of his wish list following the potential season-ending injury to Harry Kane.

    “Lots of names are coming and the majority of them are coming by players’ entourages, agents, people that want to put players’ names in the market,” he said. “Do we need a striker? Yes, if possible yes.

    “But it has to be a positive situation for us, so in this moment we have these attacking players that of course are very good: Son (Heung-min), Lucas (Moura), (Erik) Lamela, (Giovani) Lo Celso, Dele Alli. Of course they’re very good but we miss that target man.

    “So if it’s possible then we are doing everything possible. It’s not easy but we’re trying to add players to the squad.”

    Another piece of business Spurs will be trying to do is turn Giovani Lo Celso’s loan into a permanent deal.

    Spurs have an option to buy him for £27.2million during this window, a price that will go up to an obligatory £34million in the summer.

    “I imagine yes, I think it is something that comes from the summer,” Mourinho said when asked whether a purchase could happen. “I think Giovani is going to stay with us.

    “There are some loans that have the opportunity to be in control of the situation like is happening with Gedson.

    “There are some emergency loans and there are other loans where the objective is to be in control of the future of the player without any need of further negotiations.”

    Spurs have received some more good news after Hugo Lloris returned to first-team training following a three-month absence with a dislocated elbow which required surgery.

    Mourinho expects the club captain to be back by the early part of next month.

    “So the normal thing is February,” he said. “If you ask me late February or early February, at this moment I go more for early.

    “Things are going well. He’s getting his confidence back, he’s training so I would say he’s one of our new players in the January transfer window.”

    Ben Davies (ankle) and Tanguy Ndombele (hip) are nearing a return but will not be fit for the lunchtime clash at Vicarage Road. Kane (hamstring) and Moussa Sissoko (knee) are long-term injury victims.

  • Guardiola has options ahead of Palace visit

    Laporte and Sane the only major absentees for Manchester City.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:28 CET

    Manchester City have close to a fully-fit squad for the visit of Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.

    Defender Aymeric Laporte and winger Leroy Sane are the only major absentees but both are close to returning after long-term knee injuries.

    Laporte returned to full training earlier this month and Sane is also close to rejoining the squad.

    Crystal Palace midfielder Max Meyer will miss the trip to the Etihad Stadium with an ankle injury sustained from the tackle that saw Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sent off in last weekend’s 1-1 draw.

    The German joins captain Luka Milivojevic (suspension), Mamadou Sakho, Patrick Van Aanholt (both hamstring), Jeffrey Schlupp (hip), Andros Townsend (groin) and Christian Benteke (muscle) on the sidelines.

    Boss Roy Hodgson had centre back Scott Dann back on the bench on Saturday following a recent calf injury and right-back Joel Ward returned to training this week after recovering from a knee injury.

    Man City provisional squad: Ederson, Bravo, Walker, Cancelo, Otamendi, Stones, Garcia, Fernandinho, Angelino, Mendy, Zinchenko, Gundogan, Rodri, De Bruyne, D Silva, B Silva, Mahrez, Foden, Sterling, Aguero, Jesus.

    Crystal Palace provisional squad: Guaita, Ward, Tomkins, Cahill, Riedewald, McCarthy, Kouyate, McArthur, Ayew, Zaha, Tosun, Hennessey, Kelly, Woods, Dann, Pierrick, Daly, Kirby, McGregor, Boateng, Henderson.

  • Southampton v Wolverhampton Wanderers Team News

    Resurgent Southampton have no fresh injury concerns as they prepare to face Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday afternoon.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:16 CET

    October’s 9-0 defeat to Leicester placed real pressure on boss Ralph Hasenhuttl but the board kept faith and their patience has been rewarded with the Austrian guiding his team to 13 points from the last 15 available.
    Key to that run has been the form of striker Danny Ings who has netted 10 times in his last 10 Premier League starts and he seems destined for an England recall, five years after his sole cap.
    The work-rate of Shane Long has aided Ings’ recent output and the pair are again likely to start in attack in an unchanged side from last Saturday’s 2-1 win at Leicester.
    French defender Yan Valery is still absent through a viral infection but barring that, Hasenhuttl has a clean bill of health to pick from.
    The same cannot be said for opposite number Nuno Espirito Santo, with a feeling that his side’s packed schedule of playing at both home and abroad is starting to catch up with what is a squad lacking depth.
    Willy Boly and Diogo Jota are making progress in their recoveries from respective calf and ankle injuries but this game will come too soon.
    Another likely absentee is Ruben Vinagre, who damaged a hamstring in Wednesday’s FA Cup defeat to Manchester United.
    Wolves have a poor record when visiting Southampton, losing their last five top-flight trips to the Saints in a run that extends back to 1980.
    The pair drew 1-1 when they met in October with Ings and Raul Jimenez the goalscorers and the hosts will be looking to go one better as they aim to win a fourth straight league match for the first time since May 2016.
    However, Hasenhuttl’s men have kept just one clean sheet at home this season suggesting this could be an entertaining affair.

  • Fortuna admit interest in WBA’s stagnating ex-Arsenal wonderkid Willock

    Fortuna Sittard are trying to lure ex-Arsenal talent Chris Willock to the Netherlands after his loan move to West Bromwich Albion failed to work out.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:11 CET

    The Dutch club, currently 13th in the Eredivisie, have noted Willock’s lack of first-team exposure at the Hawthorns and are keen to enlist him for the second half of the campaign at Fortuna Sittard Stadion.
    The 21-year-old, who has been on the books at Portuguese giants Benfica since 2017, penned a season-long loan deal with the Baggies in August but has yet to see any first-team action.
    The former England Under-20 ace has been playing for the club’s Under-23s and putting in some stellar displays in Premier League 2.
    Willock, who has seven goals and almost as many assists in the league and cup this term, grabbed a brace as Deon Burton’s youngsters beat Reading 4-2 in front of just 135 spectators at Kidderminster earlier this month.
    But he was not involved in the 4-0 Premier League 2 win over Sunderland this week and his season-long loan could be cut short in the January transfer window.
    “It’s true that we are always interested in talented young people and Willock is such a player,” Fortuna Sittard technical director Sjoerd Ars told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
    “Now whether he comes or not, we will have to wait and see.”
    Willock started his career with Arsenal but made the decision to move to Benfica after failing to see any senior action under Arsene Wenger.
    It was the same story for him in Lisbon, with the Londoner only ever appearing for the Estadio da Luz outfit’s B team.
    “My main goal is to get minutes in the first team,” he told West Brom’s official website earlier this season. “Hopefully I can do that soon.
    “I spoke to the boss a few weeks ago and he said I need to be to patient and wait for an opportunity and keep working hard.”

  • Seagulls midfielder teams up with Pardew on loan

    Brighton midfielder Tudor Baluta has joined Dutch side ADO Den Haag on a loan deal until the end of the season.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:08 CET

    Brighton have announced the first-team squad player has agreed a switch to the Eredivisie outfit until the summer where they hope he will get regular first-team action under his belt.
    The Romania international will team up with former Newcastle and West Ham boss Alan Pardew in the Netherlands after he was appointed their new manager just before Christmas.
    Brighton believe 20-year-old Baluta will benefit from the loan switch and technical director Dan Ashworth says the highly-rated youngster’s progress will be monitored closely before he returns to the south coast at the end of the season.
    Ashworth said on the club’s website: “Tudor is one of a number of talented young players at the club, and this loan move will be excellent for his development.  He will have a chance to play regularly at a very high standard in the Dutch Eredivisie, and work under a very experienced coach in Alan Pardew.
    “Myself, Graham Potter, David Weir and his team will continue to monitor his progress, and we wish him all the very best for the rest of the season.”
    Baluta, who has seven caps for Romania, joined from Viitorul Constanta 12 months ago before returning to the club on loan.
    He has been involved in the Premier League 2 campaign for the Seagulls’ Under-23s this season, making five appearances, and played one first-team game – the 3-1 third-round Carabao Cup defeat to Aston Villa in September.
    He will now hope to help Pardew’s side in the Dutch top flight as they fight relegation. ADO are second from bottom after 18 games, two points adrift of VVV Venlo directly above them, and host RKC Waalwijk on Sunday, with Baluta poised to make his debut.

  • Manchester City v Crystal Palace Team News

    Manchester City have no fresh injury worries ahead of their clash with Crystal Palace at the Etihad on Saturday.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:07 CET

    Pep Guardiola’s side cruised to a crushing 6-1 victory against Aston Villa on Sunday to leapfrog Leicester into second.
    It now means they are the closest contenders to Liverpool for the title although they still remain a massive 14 points behind the Reds, who also have a game in hand.
    Guardiola’s men were back to their best against Villa with some sumptuous football on display. He rested Raheem Sterling for the match and he could now come back into the side against Palace.
    The 6-1 win saw Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus start together for the first time this season in the Premier League but it is likely one of them will be sacrificed to accommodate Sterling.
    Aymeric Laporte returned to full training this week but the game will come too for the Frenchman. Aside from Laporte, only Leroy Sane remains a long-term absentee.
    Palace arrive into the game with Luka Milivojevic serving the second game of his three-match ban. The Serbian midfielder was dismissed during the Eagles’ 1-0 FA Cup third-round home loss to Championship outfit Derby County and will sit out this game and their home match with Southampton on Tuesday night.
    Cenk Tosun could be handed his first start since making a loan move from Everton last week. He made his debut as a second-half substitute in Palace’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Saturday.
    Christian Benteke will be assessed before the game after struggling with a muscle strain this week.
    Palace still have to contend with a lengthy injury list that includes Andros Townsend, who scored a sensational volley in the same fixture last season, Patrick van Aanholt, and Mamadou Sakho.
    Youngsters Sam Woods, Nya Kirby, and Brandon Pierrick are likely to be named in the squad as Roy Hodgson seeks further reinforcements this month.

  • Newcastle manager Steve Bruce supports move to ban under-12s heading in training

    Research has found footballers are are more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:04 CET

    Former Manchester United defender Steve Bruce has backed moves by the Scottish Football Association to ban players under 12 years old from heading the ball in training.

    The SFA is understood to be moving towards prohibition for younger children following the publication in October of the initial findings from the FIELD study carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow, which discovered that footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.

    Ex-Newcastle striker Alan Shearer fronted the BBC documentary Dementia, Football and Me in 2017 highlighting the issue, and close friend Bruce, the current Magpies head coach, is conscious of the issues raised by recent research.

    Asked about the SFA proposal, he said: “Well, I can understand it. We’ve all seen Alan’s documentary, haven’t we?

    “When you think of the [1966] World Cup team in particular and see that generation with Alzheimer’s and all sorts of stuff, you think maybe we have to look at it.

    “The ball, back in their day, became three times heavier than it is today, but if the right stuff is there, I can agree with it.”

    Bruce made more than 900 appearances for Gillingham, Norwich, Manchester United, Birmingham and Sheffield United in a 20-year professional career during which he established himself as an accomplished defender both on the ground and in the air.

    The link between football and neurodegenerative disease has come to the fore since a re-examination of the brain of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle, who died in 2002, revealed he had done so as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy with a coroner ruling that it had been damaged by repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs.

    It was also revealed in 2016 that three members of England’s World Cup-winning team, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson, were living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Peters and Wilson have since died.

    In the wake of Shearer’s documentary, Bruce hinted that he may get himself checked out and although he has not done so, he can see the wisdom of restricting younger players.

    He said: “It is a concern, I’m sure, for a lot of people. When you see, unfortunately, especially the era before me, a lot of them – you look at the World Cup squad, all of them seem to have been struck. It’s ridiculous.

    “But I’m all for it. If it’s clinically proved, then should we be asking a young kid who’s not developed to be heading the ball repeatedly?

    “I don’t think they do it as often as we did, to be honest. We repeatedly had it. They kicked it into the box and you headed it away.”

  • On This Day: Wolves stun Premier League leaders

    Rock-bottom Wolves pulled off a massive result 16 years ago as they overcame table-toppers Manchester United 1-0 at Molineux.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:03 CET

    Wolves were enduring a torrid debut Premier League season ahead of the encounter, picking up just three victories from 20 matches and they were sitting bottom of the standings ahead of the visit of Sir Alex Ferguson’s formidable Red Devils.
    Starting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes, United were expected to take an easy three points back to the red side of Manchester, having won 16 of their 21 games to sit proudly at the top of the table heading into the clash.
    However, what transpired was a determined performance from Wolves as they caused a massive shock in English football, running out 1-0 winners to the delight of the Molineux crowd and providing travelling manager Ferguson with some questions to answer.
    A tight contest was decided by one piece of individual brilliance from former Scotland international Kenny Miller on the 67th minute. Bringing down a headed ball forward from Denis Irwin, who only left the Old Trafford outfit in 2002, the now-40-year-old striker dribbled past a stumbling Wes Brown before bending a shot from the edge of the area past goalkeeper Tim Howard.
    Defensively, it was a dreadful goal to concede from United’s perspective, with Brown completely wrong-footed before falling on his backside before Howard should have done better having got his hand to the shot.
    However, take nothing away from Miller, he did what was required and that goal has gone down in Wolves history, something which can never be taken away from him.
    Ultimately, that victory failed to be the catalyst Wolves needed to survive and they only won another three Premier League goals as they finish rock-bottom.
    As for United, they ended up finishing third in the table, a massive 15 points behind Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, but the Red Devils did manage to lift the FA Cup after beating Millwall 3-0 in the final.

  • Loan trio in line for Huddersfield debuts

    King, Emile Smith Rowe and Stearman could feature for Terriers against Barnsley.

    17 Jan 2020, 14:02 CET

    Huddersfield’s new signings Andy King, Emile Smith Rowe and Richard Stearman are all in contention to make their club debuts against Brentford.

    Midfielders King and Smith Rowe have joined on loan until the end of the season from Leicester and Arsenal respectively, while defender Stearman is a free signing following his release from Sheffield United.

    Defender Tommy Elphick (knee), midfielder Alex Pritchard (knee) and forward Collin Quaner (hip) will all be assessed after missing last week’s defeat at Barnsley.

    Midfielder Jonathan Hogg misses out again as he will serve the final game of his two-match ban.

    Brentford’s Halil Dervisoglu could be in line for his Sky Bet Championship debut, having been tipped to feature in the club’s 3-1 defeat of QPR on Saturday but eventually omitted from the squad.

    Manager Thomas Frank will still be missing both Sergi Canos and Nikos Karelis for the trip to the John Smith’s Stadium.

    Both players incurred serious knee injuries in October and have been sidelined since.

    The Bees’ first signing of the transfer window, 18-year-old midfielder Paris Maghoma, is unlikely to make an appearance as he has been earmarked for the Brentford ‘B’ reserve squad.

  • Arsenal 'completely losing their s***', ft. Liverpool, Mbappe

    Arsenal fans are 'completely losing their s***' over how good they are. And Mbappe to Liverpool nonsense.

    17 Jan 2020, 13:58 CET

    On the buses Question: Is Instagram account _officialliverpoolfans_ promoting a ‘hostile reception’ for Manchester United’s coach on Sunday to its 77,000 followers really newsworthy? Answer: Perhaps. Follow-up question: Does it warrant a back page in the nation’s best-selling newspaper? Answer: Somehow. A few points: a) Are The Sun really in any position to speculate about the ‘sinister’ plans and behaviour of Liverpool fans, depicting them all as ‘hostile’, rather than just a select few targeted on a relatively small social media account? Would they do this in a city where their newspapers are actually sold? b) What is this ‘corridor of hatred’ that Manchester City experienced in April 2018? Is it next to the one of uncertainty? We can’t be sure. c) Why do they make no mention of the similar scenario in November, when they put Manchester City ‘fearing’ such a welcome on their back page, only for absolutely nothing of note to happen? d) Football365’s Twitter account has 73.5k followers. Do we qualify for a national newspaper back page yet?   Coach error Point c) also stands for the Daily Mirror, who deem the biggest story in all of football at Friday lunchtime to be this:

    ‘”Bring pints, pyros and flags!” Liverpool fans to replicate hostile Anfield arrival faced by Manchester City when Solskjaer’s United turn up for Sunday showdown’
    That would be *77,000* Liverpool fans *asked to* replicate hostile Anfield arrival by social media account that has tried and summarily failed to do this far more recently than it has succeeded. Does the feed of every moderately successful Instagram account qualify as major headline news now? Or only the posts that can be recycled to unnecessarily stoke already unhealthy club rivalries?   Kylian eve Still, at least they aren’t pretending that a story from Thursday afternoon about Neymar wanting to commit his future to PSG is the biggest thing happening in football at midday on Friday. Mediawatch understands that the Liverpool Echo sees everything through red-tinted glasses. That is their remit, and it would be weird if they started reporting on Arsenal stories. But Mediawatch cannot quite get on board with the constant Kylian Mbappe hype train that is being driven almost exclusively by this one website. With Manchester United visiting Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool on course for their first top-flight title in 30 years and both Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conducting pre-match press conferences, a club-centric website like the Echo is not struggling for news. And hell, their live transfer blog being top of the site in mid-January is no crime. But this?
    ‘Liverpool transfer news LIVE – Kylian Mbappe ‘bid’, Timo Werner boost, Sandro Tonali ‘blow”
    It’s a bit much. And don’t worry if this ‘Kylian Mbappe ‘bid” is news to you. It is buried at the bottom of an ESPN story about Neymar’s future, which contains these final two paragraphs:
    ‘The situation is similar for Kylian Mbappe. Unlike Neymar, he has an offer on the table to renew his contract but has not made a decision yet. ‘It is expected that Real Madrid will try to recruit him in the summer but PSG hope to keep him for at least another season, especially if he signs a new deal.’
    No mention of Liverpool. No mention of an actual ‘bid’ whatsoever, just the suggestion that one will materialise in the summer. And absolutely no shame from the Echo, who point out that ‘the Reds have repeatedly been linked’ with Mbappe, without reminding us that it is they who have been repeatedly linking them. “Absolutely no chance, sorry for killing that story!” might be the most accidentally misleading thing Jurgen Klopp has ever said.   Work of Art You can almost taste the utter disdain that Mark Irwin holds for those ‘excitable bloggers churning out their “long reads” to explain how much Arsenal have improved under Mikel Arteta’. Irwin has been given the unenviable task of filling Neil Ashton’s column inches in The Sun on Fridays and is using his platform to express his contempt for fans being somewhat positive. Fight the good fight, fella.
    ‘It is thanks to their cutting-edge insight that I now understand I must have been watching a different team these past few weeks. ‘I was under the impression that Arsenal remain tenth in the Premier League table, cannot hold on to a lead and are a defensive accident waiting to happen. But I am clearly mistaken.’
    Arsenal do indeed remain tenth in the Premier League table. Arsenal cannot hold on to a lead. Arsenal are a defensive accident waiting to happen. It is almost as if it is utterly ludicrous to expect someone to overhaul 18 months of mismanagement over the course of five games with the exact same players in their first senior coaching role. But hopefully Irwin can point out to Mediawatch these ‘excitable bloggers churning out their “long reads”‘ which suggest Arsenal ‘have been completely transformed’ and ‘are now a football super-power once again’. You can’t move for Arsenal supporters thinking they’re going to topple Liverpool next season. ‘Of course, Arsenal analysts completely losing their s*** and their sense of perspective is nothing new,’ Irwin adds, with all the self-awareness of a man who goes on to accuse an entire support of praising every new signing as ‘the greatest thing since Tony Adams or Dennis Bergkamp’. Again, we missed that. Comparisons between David Luiz and Tony Adams must have been buried in those “long reads” that say Arsenal ‘have been completely transformed’ and ‘are now a football super-power once again’. How unfortunate. Please, Mark, go on… ‘So there is little doubt that, eventually, Arsenal will be better under Arteta’s guidance than they were under Unai Emery. ‘Yet the fact remains the new manager has so far witnessed just one decent performance against a decidedly average Manchester United,’ he concludes, adding that ‘it’s not going to happen overnight’. Which is almost precisely what those ‘excitable bloggers’ are actually saying: that things have already improved somewhat but it takes time and patience to implement a completely new playing style. Thanks, though, for that ‘cutting-edge insight’.   Champagne football Dear Charlie Nicholas. If Steve Bruce is ‘not particularly fighting a relegation battle’ with Newcastle five points above 18th place, then what on earth is he doing? Burnley are two points behind. So of course they ‘are right in the mix at the bottom’.   Wilder thing The Sun: ‘Chris Wilder rapped Oli McBurnie for his South Wales derby disgrace’. Chris Wilder: “I’ve had a word with Oli and reminded him that he has a responsibility with cameras everywhere that he can’t get involved. He has got to represent himself a touch better and he understands that. He’s got a big connection with Swansea and I’ve no problem him going to watch his team. So as far as I’m concerned, we move on.” ‘Rapped’. ‘Disgrace’. Wilder is not angry, he’s just disappointed (that this is supposedly so newsworthy).   Recommended reading of the day Jamie Jackson interviews Tosin Adarabioyo. Mark Critchley on Bruno Fernandes.       We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.  

  • PSG star confirms London agent switch after 'advanced Arsenal talks'

    Ornstein revealed on Thursday that Arsenal were in 'advanced talks' with PSG

    17 Jan 2020, 13:56 CET

    Paris Saint-Germain left-back Layvin Kurzawa has announced that he’s switched agents as he moves ever closer to a reported Arsenal switch. The French international tweeted on Friday that he has joined the London-based Sports Invest UK, who are headed up by Kia Joorabchian and have strong links with the Gunners. Arsenal technical director Edu enjoys a close relationship with Joorabchian, who runs the Sports Invest UK company from offices in Marylebone in central London. David Ornstein claimed that Arsenal were in advanced talks over a move for the 27-year-old Kurzawa, whose PSG contract runs out in the summer and would be available for a bargain fee in the January transfer window. Kurzawa, who has 12 caps for France, played for PSG in their 4-1 win over his former club Monaco on Wednesday, but he alternates left-back duties with Juan Bernat, who often gets selected in the bigger games. Summer signing Kieran Tierney is out until March with a shoulder injury, and Sead Kolasinac also absent for the weekend’s clash with Sheffield United, leaving them short of options at left-back. Centre-back Calum Chambers is also out for the rest of the season, while there are still concerns over the fitness of full-back Hector Bellerin. Gunners boss Mikel Arteta confirmed that he is looking to enter the transfer market at a press conference on Wednesday.     “Yes I have [a list of targets]. You need to have one always just in case,” he said. “But it has to be the right player in the right context that financially we can compete [for] and attract. “And all these factors when you put them together it is not easy to compete in this market.”   We can’t quite believe we’re writing this, but the suits have convinced us to make a YouTube show. Sarah and Dan are on it you should probably watch it, even if just to see their faces. Subscribe here.

  • Light ready to shine again at Ascot

    Harrington runner bids for hurdle repeat.

    17 Jan 2020, 13:54 CET

    Jessica Harrington reports Magic Of Light to be in fine shape as she bids to repeat last year’s success in the bet365 Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday.

    Magic Of Light took this prize on the way to finishing second in the Grand National behind Tiger Roll.

    The nine-year-old arrives in good heart after enjoying a bloodless victory by 99 lengths over fences at Newbury last month.

    “She’s there and is settled in,” said Harrington.

    “She’s probably up against it a bit more this year than last year and a little bit different ground.

    “She’s in great order. She loves that trip.”

    Her main rival could be Oliver Sherwood’s Papagana, who took third place in the Grade One Marsh Hurdle at Ascot on her latest start after landing a Listed contest at Kempton when Culture De Sivola was second.

    “It was the obvious target after the Long Walk (registered name of the Marsh) – going back against her own sex. If she produces that form, she’s got to go very close,” Sherwood told Sky Sports Racing.

    “To be quite honest, when Paisley Park came out (at Ascot), I thought she’d take a lot of beating, so I was a tad disappointed straight after the race. Having said that, I would have taken finishing third in the Long Walk at the beginning of the season.

    “She’s run all the way to the line and looking back at it, I was pleased. I was probably expecting a bit too much beforehand as it’s a different ball game taking on the boys in Grade One company.

    “She’s back in her own league on Saturday. The ground is going to be pretty soft and tiring, which she’s handled before, and I see no reason why she can’t do it again.

    “She’s going there with a live chance.”

    Noel Williams switches Sensulano back to hurdles for the first time this season after winning her last two races over fences.

    “It’s a race for her that fitted in. We’ve wanted to step her up to three miles, so I’m hoping that will help and mitigate the fact we’re dropping down to hurdles, but she seems in great order,” said the Blewbury handler.

    “It’s a Grade Two mares’ race so it looks competitive, but I’d say she should certainly give a good account of herself and I’m hoping she can add a bit more black type to her page.

    “The top two look like they’ll be tough horses to crack, but the one thing is she’ll be toughing it out. I imagine she’ll be reverting to fences after this.”

    Olly Murphy feels Thomas Darby “has a point to prove” when the seven-year-old lines-up for the Matchbook Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle.

    Runner-up in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, things have not gone quite to plan in two runs over fences this term so Murphy has decided to put him back over the smaller obstacles and try him over a longer trip.

    “He seems in good form. The ground will be a slight concern, but he did run well in the Supreme when the ground was slow,” he said.

    “I’m looking forward to stepping him up in trip. He’s obviously got a lot of weight and he’s got a point to prove.

    “He ran very well over fences at Warwick and my horses weren’t quite right when he ran at Kempton, but he’s in good form and we’ll have a good idea where we’re going to go for the rest of the season after Saturday.”

    Evan Williams is hoping Bold Plan can defy a rise of 10lb for winning at Haydock in November.

    “I thought he ran a very good race at Haydock. The handicapper hasn’t missed him and he has gone up a few pounds for standing in his box, but Phil Kirby’s horse (Whoshotthesheriff) has run very well at Ascot since, so he probably deserves it,” said Williams.

    “He ran very well in testing conditions at Uttoxeter last season, so I don’t think that will be a problem. I don’t have any issues with the ground or the track, to be honest.

    “I think it’s just a question of whether he’s good enough off his new rating – and the only way to find out is to run him.”

    Nigel Twiston-Davies does not expect the rain-softened ground to be an issue as Ballymoy bids to lift this prize for a second time.

    “He won it last year and he should have a good chance again, I think,” said Twiston-Davies.

    “He’s in good form and the testing ground shouldn’t be a problem for him.”

    Richard Hobson is just pleased to get Allysson Monterg back on the racecourse in the bet365 Handicap Chase after being absent since finishing fourth in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

    “He’s got loads of ability, but he’s going to need it. He’s been off for a year and it’s not like he’s coming back in a Mickey Mouse race – there’s some good horses in there,” said Hobson.

    “He’s been plagued with injuries all his career, it’s such a shame.

    “For me he’s a Grand National horse, that’s the aim. He’ll stay four miles all day, but I think this trip is fine for his first run back and if he nicks a place, I’ll be happy.

    “He was going great in the Cotswold last year and did a tendon coming down the hill, the same one he’d done before.”

    Other smart performers among the 11 runners are Kildisart, Happy Diva, Flying Angel and Espoir De Guye.