Rumour Has It: Messi agrees to sign new two-year Barcelona deal

By Sports Desk June 02, 2021

Speculation has swirled for months about the future of Lionel Messi following a season of change at Barcelona.

Barca have been busy already this off-season, signing Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Compatriot Aguero had implored Messi to extend his Barcelona stay, which dates back to 2000, and it seems the striker may get his wish.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI RE-COMMITS TO CATALANS

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is set to pen a new two-year contract with Barcelona, according to AS.

The Argentina forward has practically agreed to the deal, with only "structural details" to complete.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have both shown interest in Messi but he looks set to commit until 2023.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton are in the market for a new manager after Carlo Ancelotti's sudden departure and The Athletic reports they will consider Rangers boss and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. TalkSPORT claims ex-Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo is also on their radar.

- COPE claims that new Real Madrid boss Ancelotti will not push to recruit James Rodriguez from the Italian's former club Everton.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are in pole position in the race to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City. 

- The Sun also claims any potential Sterling move to Arsenal may scupper Manchester City's plans to sign Tottenham's Harry Kane , as they want to use the winger in a swap deal given Spurs hefty asking price.

- Manchester United are keen on Sevilla defender Jules Kounde but Barcelona have joined the pursuit for his signature, claims Mundo Deportivo.

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  • Copa America 2024: Can Messi and Argentina continue their era of dominance? Copa America 2024: Can Messi and Argentina continue their era of dominance?

    It took 28 years, but Argentina finally ended a long wait for a major international trophy when they triumphed at the 2021 Copa America.

    Lionel Messi starred throughout that tournament in Brazil, which was played partly behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scoring four goals and laying on five more, though it was Angel Di Maria who proved Argentina's hero in the final, scoring the winner against the Selecao.

    That triumph marked Messi's first piece of silverware on the international stage, while Argentina won a trophy for the first time since 1993.

    It paved the way for Argentina to go from continental champions to world champions less than 18 months later, as Messi inspired them to glory in Qatar.

    And now the world champions will look to cement this era of dominance by retaining the Copa America crown.

    With the help of Opta data, we preview the key storylines ahead of the Copa America.

    THE HOSTS

    USA

    This year's Copa will be held in the United States, which was also the host nation for the 2016 edition, which was won by Chile.

    Like in 2016, 16 teams will feature at the tournament this year, with the USA one of six CONCACAF nations involved.

    Gregg Berhalter left his role after the 2022 World Cup, but was then reappointed. While he has a talented group at his disposal, it does feel as though he cannot quite get the required level of consistency out of them.

    The two sides of the USA were on show in their warm-up matches: A 5-1 hammering at the hands of Colombia was followed by a 1-1 draw with heavyweights Brazil.

    In Christian Pulisic, the USA have an influential playmaker who comes into the tournament on the back of his best goalscoring season, having netted 15 times in all competitions for Milan.

    Folarin Balogun has netted three times for the Stars and Stripes since switching allegiance from England, while Antonee Robinson, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah have plenty of top-level experience. But Berhalter has to find a way to put it all together.

    THE FAVOURITES

    Argentina

    It is easy to see why La Albiceleste are the big favourites. They are the best team in the world, according to the FIFA rankings, and in Messi, they still have a player who is arguably the best in the world, even heading into his late thirties.

    Messi has already been involved in 21 MLS goals for Inter Miami this season, and everything is set to revolve around him once again for Argentina.

    As soon as he features for Argentina at this tournament, Messi will become the Copa America’s all-time record holder for appearances – he is tied with Chile great Sergio Livingstone on 34, as it stands.

    Messi has scored 13 Copa America goals, which puts him joint-seventh on the all-time list, alongside fellow Argentina great Gabriel Batistuta. If he is able to replicate his four goals from the 2021 edition, then Messi could join Norberto Mendez and Zizinho at the top of the all-time charts – that is unless Peru's Paolo Guerrero and/or Chile's Eduardo Vargas were to net at least four times each to set a new record.

    Since the start of the 2011 Copa, Messi has had 102 shots – more than any other player. Surprisingly, his conversion rate stands at just 10.78 per cent, which is the second-lowest out of any player to have netted at least five goals in the competition in that time.

    With 15 titles to their name, Argentina are the joint-record winners of the Copa America, alongside Uruguay. They have played more Copa matches (201) and scored more goals in the tournament (474) than any other team, too.

    They are clearly the team to beat.

    Brazil

    This Brazil is not exactly the vintage of the 1990s or 2000s. With no Neymar, there's less flair, and more streetfighter grit, in Dorival Junior's squad.

    Vinicius Junior does provide a flavour of the archetypal Brazilian international, though, and he is set to be the Selecao's talisman at this Copa.

    He comes into the tournament on the back of an exceptional season with Real Madrid, having scored 24 goals across all competitions.

    Vinicius outperformed his 20.96 xG, while also providing nine assists and creating 56 chances for his team-mates.

    The forward spent much of the domestic campaign playing down the middle for Carlo Ancelotti's team, whereas for his country, he is likely to play wide left.

    Who occupies that centre-forward spot is perhaps up for debate. Endrick is a superstar in the making, though will Brazil's coach trust the youngster to lead the line from the off?

    Gabriel Martinelli is better on the flanks, though could do a job if required. However, with no Richarlison or Gabriel Jesus, that striker position does seem a possible weakness.

    There's no Casemiro, following his poor performances for Manchester United, but Douglas Luiz, Bruno Guimaraes and Lucas Paqueta form a steely midfield trio with genuine quality.

    With Ederson injured, Alisson is the clear number one, with Eder Militao and Marquinhos seemingly set to pair up at the back, with Gabriel Magalhaes and Bremer quality options in reserve, too.

    They face Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica in their group, and despite their struggles in World Cup qualifying, they are still the favourites to top that pool.

    Uruguay

    Now under the guidance of the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa, Uruguay are being tipped by many to emerge as serious challengers in the United States. 

    A hat-trick from Liverpool's Darwin Nunez helped them thrash Mexico 4-0 in a pre-tournament friendly last week, while they also sit second in the CONMEBOL 2026 World Cup qualification standings, having beaten Brazil and Argentina last year.

    That latter victory makes them the only team to defeat La Albiceleste since they won the World Cup in Qatar. Messi and company have won the other 13 of their 14 matches as world champions.

    Nunez, who ranked joint-fifth in the Premier League for total shots (108) and eighth for xG (16.39) in 2023-24, is an ideal fit for the all-action attacking approach favoured by Bielsa, while tireless midfielder Federico Valverde brings balance alongside enforcer Manuel Ugarte and the cultured Rodrigo Bentancur.

    Luis Suarez, meanwhile, has received a surprise call-up despite not featuring in Uruguay's pre-tournament friendlies, having scored 12 goals and assisted five in 16 MLS appearances for Inter Miami this term.

    Neutrals should expect entertainment from a side that leads all teams in South American World Cup qualifying for xG (9.05), but as is so often the case with Bielsa's teams, there are questions at the other end. 

    Ecuador (4.52) and Venezuela (4.78) are among those to have allowed opponents a lower xG total in the CONMEBOL qualifiers than Uruguay (4.97 xGA), and goalkeeper Sergio Rochet can expect to be worked after usurping Fernando Muslera, who helped La Celeste finish fourth at the 2010 World Cup and win the Copa America one year later.

    Panama and Bolivia look unlikely to offer much of a challenge in Group C, making Uruguay's final match against the United States vital. Should they top their pool, they will land on the opposite side of the bracket to the Group A victors, widely expected to be Argentina. 

    Uruguay held the record for most Copa America victories outright between 2011 (their 15th title) and 2021 (Argentina's 15th). If we see Bielsa-ball in full flow, they could be contenders to reclaim their status as South America's top dogs.

    Colombia

    Colombia are the form team heading into the Copa America.

    They are unbeaten in 23 games, winning the last eight of those, including hammerings of the USA and Bolivia in pre-tournament friendlies.

    Luis Diaz scored one and set up another in that latter match - a 3-0 win - and he was the breakout star of the 2021 Copa America, scoring four goals to finish level with Messi at the top of the charts.

    Those four goals came from a combined xG of just 1.0, with Diaz netting an overhead kick against Brazil in the group stage, and lashing in a supreme strike from outside the area as Colombia beat Peru in the third-placed play-off.

    Diaz is Colombia's most potent goalscoring threat, but they also have James Rodriguez to rely on further back.

    James' club career has become a nomadic one, but for his country, the former Madrid playmaker is a superstar once again under coach Nestor Lorenzo, who has made the 32-year-old the main man.

    Having been left out of Colombia's squad for the 2021 edition, James will be eager to make up for lost time.

    Colombia are more than just dark horses. They should be considered among the very best teams at this tournament.

    THE BREAKOUT STARS

    Endrick is the obvious pick here. The teenager looks set for stardom, and he'll be linking up with Vinicius, Jude Bellingham and Kylian Mbappe at Real Madrid next season. He has scored three goals in his last four outings for Brazil, including a late winner against Mexico earlier in June.

    Alejandro Garnacho is now an established Premier League player, but he is only just finding his way for Argentina. He is yet to score for his country, but has stepped up in big moments for Manchester United this season, none more so than in the FA Cup final, in which he scored the opening goal in a 2-1 win over Manchester City.

    Colombia forward Jhon Duran  is reportedly of interest to Chelsea, and the Aston Villa attacker could be something of a wildcard for Lorenzo off the bench. His five Premier League goals in 2023-24 came from just 2.0 xG.

    THE OPTA SUPERCOMPUTER SAYS...

    As mentioned, Argentina are the clear favourites, with Opta's model handing them a 31 per cent chance of winning their 16th Copa crown.

    Brazil, as would be expected, rank second - their win likelihood is 23 per cent .

    Uruguay come in with a 13 per cent chance, ahead of the USA ( seven per cent ), Colombia ( six per cent ) and Mexico ( six per cent ).

    Two teams - Jamaica and Bolivia, who are the worst-ranked side in this year's edition of the tournament - are given a zero per cent chance of winning the trophy.

    Panama, who reached the CONCACAF Gold Cup final last year, can perhaps consider themselves hard done by to be given just a one per cent chance, however.

  • Man City to open Premier League title defence away against Chelsea Man City to open Premier League title defence away against Chelsea

    Manchester City will begin their Premier League title defence with a testing trip to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on the opening weekend.

    Pep Guardiola's side have already won a historic four straight titles and will begin their pursuit of a fifth consecutive crown with a tough away match on Sunday August 18 against a team now managed by Enzo Maresca.

    Man City have won their opening Premier League match in 12 of the last 13 seasons, though the exception was an away game in London when they lost 1-0 to Tottenham in 2021-22.

    This will be the first time in 53 years that Chelsea have begun a top-flight campaign with a match against the reigning champions. They last did that in 1971, losing to Arsenal at Highbury.

    The Premier League fixtures for 2024-25 were unveiled on Tuesday.

    Arsenal narrowly missed out to Man City in each of the last two seasons and Mikel Arteta's men discovered they will start at home to Wolves on Saturday August 17.

    It is Manchester United and Fulham who will open the season on Friday August 16, with the FA Cup holders playing at home in an evening fixture.

    Arne Slot's tenure as Liverpool manager starts with a trip away to play promoted Ipswich Town, who return to the top flight after a 22-year absence, while play-off winners Southampton will face Newcastle United at St James' Park.

    The opening weekend concludes on Monday August 19 as Leicester City host Tottenham in a difficult start to the Foxes' Premier League return.

    There are some other notable matches taking place in the early weeks of the season, with Arsenal away to Aston Villa in the two teams' second match of the campaign.

    The Gunners also have back-to-back away matches against Tottenham and Man City in September, meaning they will have had road games against three of the top five sides from last season inside the first five matchweeks.

    Man Utd, meanwhile, are due to face Liverpool at Old Trafford on August 31 in the standout fixture of Matchday 3.

  • Hector, Harding eager to make mark on Jamaica's Copa America campaign Hector, Harding eager to make mark on Jamaica's Copa America campaign

    As Jamaica’s senior Reggae Boyz gear up for their highly anticipated Copa America campaign, two players, Michael Hector and Wes Harding, find themselves at different junctures of their international careers. Despite their varied experiences and career timelines, both England-born defenders are eager to leave a significant mark on Jamaica's journey in the tournament.

    Hector has been a stalwart in the Reggae Boyz setup for over a decade in which he paraded his skills at three Concacaf Gold Cup tournaments –2015, 2019, 2021 –and he is now on the cusp of making his third Copa America outing.

    In fact, Hector, known for his versatility and composure, is the only player in Heimir Hallgrimsson’s current squad, who has the privilege of being a part of three Copa America squads over the years.

    “Obviously my first Copa America appearance was my debut and I’ll never forget that. Obviously, massive games, great atmosphere and I don’t get to appreciate it much, but when you’re in a tournament, you obviously know how big it is with the countries that are playing in it, so it is a special tournament to be a part of,” Hector said in an interview with Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) media, on Monday.

    As he reflected on the journey, which has been marked by consistent performances and a deep-rooted commitment to the country, Hector also shared his excitement about their prospects on this occasion.

    The 31-year-old’s leadership and defensive prowess will be crucial for Jamaica, as they rub shoulders with some of the most formidable teams in South America, as well their usual foes from Concacaf. His ability to read the game, coupled with his calm presence on the field, provides the Reggae Boyz with a solid defensive foundation.

    “For me, every cap I got, every time I can have a chance to represent this country, it's an honour and I always try do my best. The journey has been special, but it has not ended. Hopefully, there's a lot more special moments to come, special nights, and special days, but, it's been a fantastic journey, one that I always treasure and want to be a part of for longer,” Hector noted.

    Michael Hector challenges Lionel Messi during the 2015 Copa America.

    Though only two caps into his international career, Harding, like Hector, is determined to play a key role in Jamaica's campaign, aiming to do his teammates and family proud on his long-awaited return.

    “It's amazing to be back. It's been a while, over two years now, so, I’m over the moon. It's been a long, gruelling time waiting, watching from the distance, so, when he [Hallgrimsson] called me, I was really excited," said Harding, who made his debut against Serbia in 2021.

    At 27, Harding, known for his speed and aerial ability, is also rated as a strong, aggressive, and tenacious player, who can contribute to Hallgrimsson’s team in the right back or centre back positions.

    With Copa America representing a unique opportunity for Harding to again showcase his talent on an international stage against some of the world's best teams, he is ready to navigate the challenges to come.

    Jamaica's Reggae Boyz will open against Mexico on Saturday.

    "Yeah, of course, that first time (I represented Jamaica) was beautiful. I remember playing really well, I really enjoyed it, and then obviously the last time is Panama, which was so long ago as well. But, I'm just really excited to be here,” Harding beamed with delight.

    “It feels good to be back with a squad. I know a lot of the players, played against them as well, so, we've got a really good squad here and I am really looking forward to it. As I said, it (Copa America) is a big thing. This is, like the Euros (European Championships) over this side of the world, so, yeah, it is really amazing to be in, and I can't wait to get started,” the Millwall FC man said with an air of confidence.

    The Reggae Boyz, who are set to open their Group B account against perennial rivals Mexico on Saturday, will be aiming to be more formidable than they were in the recent World Cup qualifying fixtures.

    To do that, they will have to display indomitable spirit and resilience, especially as they chase history to not only secure a point or win, but more importantly, to possibly progress beyond the group stages on this occasion. Venezuela and Ecuador are the other teams in the group at the tournament being hosted by the United States.

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