Erling Haaland has suggested the €175million fee it might take to prise him away from Borussia Dortmund would be too much to spend on one player.

That figure has been floated as a potential benchmark in Chelsea's bid to sign the Dortmund sensation.

Haaland has previously been linked with several of Europe's top clubs, but finances are tight at Barcelona and Real Madrid while Manchester United and Manchester City seemingly have their eyes set on alternative targets.

It leaves European champions Chelsea as the striker's most likely destination if he leaves Dortmund, yet Haaland's comments on Tuesday did not indicate an imminent move.

"Before yesterday I hadn't talked to my agent in a month – you have to tell me [about the reports]," he told the media.

"But I hope they are just rumours, as €175m would be a lot of money for one person."

Pressed on his Dortmund future, Haaland added: "First of all, I have three years left on my contract. I'm enjoying my time here.

"But of course [winning the DFB-Pokal] was important, because that's what I want."

PAY THE PREMIUM?

Dortmund have already sold Jadon Sancho to United but appear determined to keep Haaland for at least another year, at which point a relatively affordable clause in his contract could be activated by rival clubs.

For Chelsea, as they aim to follow up Champions League success with a Premier League challenge, the appeal of paying a premium 12 months early is clear.

Their shot conversion rate of 10.43 per cent in 2020-21 ranked 69th among the 98 teams in Europe's top five leagues, while their 58 goals fell 4.92 short of their expected goals (xG) total of 62.92 – the 20th-worst underperformance.

Timo Werner was the Blues' starting striker of choice but netted just six times in the top flight from 79 shots worth a combined 11.45 xG, a miserable 7.59 per cent conversion rate.

Haaland, by contrast, scored with 29.03 per cent of his 93 attempts, improving on his 23.84 xG with 27 Bundesliga goals.

Toby Alderweireld says Tottenham will always be in his heart after completing a move to Qatari side Al-Duhail.

The Belgium international has joined Al-Duhail on a three-year deal for a reported £13million fee (65.34m QAR), ending his six-year association with Spurs.

Former Atletico Madrid and Southampton defender Alderweireld made 236 appearances for Tottenham and was a regular in the club's run to the 2018-19 Champions League final.

He appeared 25 times in the Premier League last season, with his 2.61 headed clearances per 90 minutes the most of any Spurs player, just ahead of Eric Dier (2.43).

Spurs won 97 of the 172 league games Alderweireld started for a 56.4 per cent win rate, compared to exactly 50 per cent in the games without him (28 wins in 56 matches).

The north London side announced Alderweireld's departure on their official website on Tuesday and the defender took to social media to send his best wishes to Spurs fans.

"Six years, two homes, a Champions League final and so many memories," he said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.

"You made me feel a part of your club from the moment I walked out at White Hart Lane and roared us on, no matter what, into our new, special, stadium.

"Thank you first to the fans and then to my team-mates and every incredible member of the Spurs staff, backroom and beyond.

"This club will always be in mine and my family's heart. Love Toby."

Alderweireld is the third player to leave Tottenham during the offseason transfer window, with Juan Foyth completing a permanent move to Villarreal and Erik Lamela heading to Sevilla.

Bryan Gil joined Spurs as part of that deal involving Lamela, while Pierluigi Gollini has also arrived on an initial season-long loan from Atalanta that includes an option to buy.

Spurs, who named Nuno Espirito Santo as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor last month, begin their new Premier League campaign against Manchester City on August 15.

Liverpool forward Diogo Jota hopes it is only a matter of time before he can experience playing in front of a full capacity crowd at Anfield for the first time.

The 24-year-old is gearing up for his second season with the Reds after joining from Wolves in September 2020.

Although playing to an empty Kop for almost the entirety of 2020-21, Jota made a blistering start to life on Merseyside with seven goals in his opening 10 appearances, making him the first Liverpool player to achieve that feat since Robbie Fowler in 1993.

The Portugal international, who represented his nation at Euro 2020, would go on to find the net 13 times for Jurgen Klopp’s side in all competitions – a tally only bettered by Mohamed Salah (31) and Sadio Mane (16).

That goals return was all the more impressive considering he missed three months of his maiden campaign with a knee injury sustained during the Champions League clash with Midtjylland in December.

Upon his return to action, Jota sampled playing in front of a reduced Anfield crowd as spectators were gradually reintegrated towards the end of the season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Aaron Ramsey has not set the world on fire since joining Juventus from Arsenal two years ago.

It has been reported in Italy that the Serie A club are ready to listen to offers.

Ramsey reportedly earns £250,000 per week and Juve are said to be keen to ease that burden.

 

TOP STORY - SPURS SHOCK MOVE FOR RAMSEY

Tottenham are lining up a shock move for former Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, claims The Sun.

Juventus may be looking to offload the Wales international, who has made 46 league appearances in two seasons in Turin.

Tottenham's managing director of football Fabio Paratici is keen to bring Ramsey back to London to team up with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

 

ROUND-UP

- Tottenham have ramped up their bid to sign Atalanta centre-back Cristian Romero who will cost around £40million (€46m), according to The Telegraph.

- Marca claims Inter, Sampdoria and Genoa are monitoring Real Madrid's 23-year-old striker Luka Jovic.

- Monaco's Montenegrin striker Stevan Jovetic has agreed to join Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin on a deal until 2024, reports Sky Sport.

- The Telegraph reports that Newcastle United  are keen on signing Manchester United defender Axel Tuanzebe, with a loan or permanent move discussed.

- Sky Sports claims West Ham are still interested in signing Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who spent last season on loan at Fulham.

- Italian clubs Lazio and Napoli,  along with Spanish outfit Villarreal,  fancy Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri, reports Sky Sports.

Manchester United great Rio Ferdinand has expressed his admiration for Raphael Varane, labelling the Frenchman as a "genuine world-class centre-back" whose achievements speak for themselves.

The Real Madrid defender is understood to be days away from a move to Old Trafford for a reported fee of £42.7million (€50m) as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally finds a suitable partner for Harry Maguire.

United previously ticked another target off their transfer list when they announced the signing of Jadon Sancho, although Varane will provide much-needed experience at the other end of the pitch for the Red Devils.

And former United defender Ferdinand, who amassed 455 appearances and won six Premier League titles in Manchester, could not contain his excitement for Varane's potential arrival.

"When you watch him sometimes he almost purrs, he's got that pace, that poise," Ferdinand said on his self-titled 'Rio Ferdinand Presents FIVE' YouTube channel.

"We've signed a genuine world-class centre-back. His list of honours is ridiculous, it's as long as my arm."

Indeed, Varane does ooze class and experience, having won the World Cup in 2018 and collected three LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues with Madrid.

Despite playing all four games at Euro 2020, the France centre-back was the only one of Didier Deschamps' defenders to not get dribbled past, while he also led LaLiga defenders in terms of aerial success last season.

Though Varane's aerial duels were also more than double any of his defensive team-mates, he also ranked second in terms of both interceptions and duels won among the club's defenders in 2020-21.

 

Ferdinand, whose £30m move from Leeds United to Man Utd was a record fee for a defender in 2002, also found time to praise former colleague Solskjaer and the recruitment by United this transfer window.

"It's a great job by the [recruitment] people at Manchester United. United have been criticised in the past, and rightly so, for dilly-dallying in the market," the former centre-back added.

"This one they were assertive, they went for their man and they got him. No doubt in my mind, he would have said to Real Madrid 'I need it, I want it, I have to go'."

Having seen Sancho join the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Maguire, Ferdinand was adamant that Varane's transfer would be due to his own insistence to move onto a fresh challenge in England.

"What a signing. There's been talk in the transfer market since it opened up – it must have come from the player," Ferdinand continued.

"He must have wanted to leave, and be part of the new Man United way, the project that's going ahead.

"The talent they've got there, the ability to play alongside Maguire after he did so well at the Euros probably played a part. I just think he sees this as a better project than what he's got at Real Madrid now."

United get their Premier League campaign underway against Leeds on August 14 and Solskjaer will be hoping to be able to call upon both of his high-profile signings should the deal go through.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has confirmed centre-back Virgil van Dijk is in contention to make his long-awaited return from injury in Thursday's pre-season friendly with Hertha Berlin.

Van Dijk appeared just five times for the Reds in the Premier League last season and missed the Netherlands' Euro 2020 campaign due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury sustained against Everton in October.

The 30-year-old was included as part of Liverpool's squad for their warm-weather training camp in Austria this month, but he was not used in last week's 1-0 win over Mainz and Klopp made clear he would not rush the defender back.

However, the Liverpool boss is now ready to give Van Dijk some minutes at Tivoli Stadion, while fellow centre-back Joe Gomez – who has not featured since injuring his knee while on England duty last November – is also closing in on a return.

"I hope, I am not sure, there is the opportunity Virgil could play a few minutes. He looks really good in training and maybe we can bring him in, but I need to have some final conversations. He looks ready and we'll see," Klopp told Liverpool's website.

"If you see the games now as part of their rehab training, that makes sense. Joe is very close. There is no race between the two of them; they had different injuries and stuff like this, but he is very close.

"If Virgil can play now 20 then probably Joey can in the game after. We will see. In training they both look really good.

"I think from time to time there are some pictures of them from training sessions and everyone can see how good it looks, but there is no rush for us. 

"It is not about they now need five pre-season games to be ready for the start or whatever. It is a long season and we prepare them after these very, very serious injuries for the rest of their careers and not for the first game of the season.

"Losing a little bit of patience for them to return as a supporter or as a coach even is not bad, it just means they were pretty good and we want them to be back in the team."

The imminent return of Van Dijk is a major boost for Liverpool, who sorely missed the Dutchman's leadership and defensive attributes last season, having played every match in their successful 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

Only one defender in the league bettered his 191 aerial wins during that season, while he attempted and completed more passes than any of them. Trent Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, was the sole defensive player to have more than his 3,624 touches.

Liverpool won 81.4 per cent of the 43 Premier League matches Van Dijk played between August 2019 and his injury, but that fell to just 51.5 per cent between October and the end of the season when he was out of the team.

Van Dijk is not the only player in line to return to the Liverpool side this week, with Andy Robertson and Diogo Jota set to feature against Bundesliga side Hertha.

Robertson and Jota represented Scotland and Portugal respectively at Euro 2020, but both players linked up with their club colleagues last week and are now deemed ready to feature in pre-season action.

"They will have minutes, that's the plan. They obviously trained completely normal all the time now and we try to involve them," Klopp said.

Liverpool also have friendlies against Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna to come before beginning their Premier League campaign against Norwich City on August 14, so Klopp will continue to rotate his side during the upcoming matches.

"Some of the players are ready for 60 minutes. It will be hard for them definitely, but it means then others play 30 minutes and stuff like this, or even maybe 20 minutes and these kind of things," he said.

"Pre-season is about trying. It's a proper, proper challenge to make all these individuals to bring them in the best possible physical shape and make us more ready or stronger as a team. 

"Unfortunately, football is not like cycling, so you don't miss it completely but the pedals and stuff like this just go away so quick that's incredible. So we have to work on that again, that's what we do.

"Today is a really tough [double session]. I like it, the players probably sleep now already and that would be better because this afternoon it would be really hard."

Xherdan Shaqiri has revealed he is ready to leave Liverpool and hinted he would enjoy playing under Maurizio Sarri at Lazio, praising the Italian coach's attacking style of play.

The Switzerland international joined the Reds in 2018 but has remained on the fringes of the first team throughout his time at Anfield.

And after enjoying Euro 2020 success, in which he became Switzerland's outright top scorer at major tournaments, Shaqiri has suggested his time under Jurgen Klopp may be coming to an end.

"Fortunately, football has helped me achieve many of my dreams," Shaqiri told Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. "I was lucky enough to play with great teams and to win many titles.

"Who knows, maybe I could get something even with the Swiss national team. My contract [with] Liverpool expires in 2022, in 2018 I signed a four-year deal.

"The important thing at this moment in my career is to be able to play regularly, but that hasn’t always been the case in the last three seasons.

"This is why I told Liverpool that I feel ready for a new challenge. They accepted my wish and will seriously consider the offers that will come. They will not stop me."

Opportunities have been limited for Shaqiri at Liverpool as he has made just 45 top-flight appearances across a three-year spell, during which he has scored seven goals for the 2019-20 Premier League champions.

But the 29-year-old, whose 10 chances created at Euro 2020 were three more than Ricardo Rodriguez for the Swiss, proved his quality as he was one of Vladimir Petkovic's standout performers at the tournament.

While Shaqiri explained there had been no direct contact from clubs yet, he made clear his desire to keep playing regularly and praised the development of Italian football.

"I'm only 29 years old, I have played in some of the best leagues in Europe, and I would like to continue being a part of them," Shaqiri said. "I’m not yet thinking about the end of my career, it’s a future I imagine far away. We will see what destiny has in store for me.

"I think it’s not just my opinion that football in Italy has developed substantially in recent years. The win at the European Championship is there to prove it, a well-deserved result.

"Just take a look at how many Premier League players have moved to Serie A."

The former Bayern Munich winger, who has been directly involved in 51 goals in 96 appearances for his country, has limited experience in Serie A, too, given he spent six months with reigning champions Inter in 2015.

Asked whether a move to Italy and, more specifically, Lazio was an option, Shaqiri spoke glowingly of Sarri's qualities and complimented sporting director Igli Tare.

"Igli Tare has been doing an excellent job at Lazio for years," Shaqiri commented. "If it's true that he has great respect for me, then I’m honoured.

"I have been following Lazio for a long time, they are a top team. In general, due to my characteristics, I like to play more attacking football and Sarri practices it. It would be intriguing."

Bryan Gil has joined Tottenham in a deal that involves Erik Lamela moving to Sevilla.

Bryan, who spent last season on loan from Sevilla at Eibar, is playing for Spain at the Tokyo Olympics.

Reports emerged last week that Spurs were close to signing the 20-year-old for a fee of £21.6million (€25m) plus Lamela, who joined the Premier League club from Roma in 2013.

While no fee has been confirmed, the deal has now gone through, subject to international clearance.

Bryan, who has represented Spain at senior level and has signed a five-year contract with Spurs, scored four times in 29 appearances last term, with 29-year-old Lamela netting three goals and providing one assist from 33 games in all competitions.

Lamela has penned a three-year deal with Sevilla, and will wear the number 17 shirt for the 2021-22 campaign.

The Argentina international made 257 appearances in all competitions during his eight-year stint with Tottenham.

Bryan, meanwhile, becomes Spurs' second signing under Nuno Espirito Santo, following on from the arrival of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini on loan from Serie A club Atalanta.

Spurs have also tied down Son Heung-min to a new contract, though uncertainty surrounds Harry Kane, who has been heavily linked with Manchester City.

All indications are Raphael Varane is set to move on from Real Madrid. 

The France international appears locked in on one destination. 

Manchester United are said to be close to a deal for the defender. 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED CLOSE TO VARANE MOVE

Manchester United have been linked to Raphael Varane in transfer rumours for months. 

Now it appears the move could come to fruition, as Marca reports United and Real Madrid are close to a €50million (£42m) agreement. 

Though the Mirror reports some at the Premier League club are worried the 28-year-old is merely using them to get a better deal out of Madrid, Fabrizio Romano says United are "confident" a deal is close and that no other clubs are involved. 

 

ROUND-UP

– With his Arsenal contract set to expire next year, Alexandre Lacazette is in demand, and Calciomercato says Atletico Madrid are pondering a potential €15m offer. 

Erik Lamela is set to join Sevilla in a swap deal, with Tottenham getting Bryan Gil, Marca says, while Romano says Spurs will also get €25m in the deal and Gil will sign through 2026.  

Newcastle are eyeing Ross Barkley as a potential addition if they cannot pry Joe Willock away from Arsenal, says The Athletic, with a loan move for Leicester's Hamza Choudhury also a possibility.

West Ham could make a move for Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, says the Express. 

Ben White's £50m move from Brighton to Arsenal will be official next week, reports Romano. 

Paris Saint-Germain have had talks with Kalidou Koulibaly's agent about a move from Napoli, reports Corriere dello Sport. 

Roma have offered €15m for Barcelona's Clement Lenglet, says Sport. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.

The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the "foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch" in the official statement released by the club.

There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.

However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer's new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.

Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well...

A sign of better times after life under Mourinho

Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition's inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.

Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.

Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club's traditions.

Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United's SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United's third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League. 

In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.

United's 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.

Finding the balance in the quest for success

Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the "very talented squad" at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho's reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.

A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.

No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.

There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.

Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the "good balance" within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.

A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.

He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.

Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.

United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.

Harry Wilson has ended a 16-year association with Liverpool to join Championship outfit Fulham ahead of the 2021-22 season. 

Wilson – who has signed a deal that could see him stay at Craven Cottage until 2026 – progressed through the ranks of the Reds after joining at the age of nine. 

The 24-year-old made just two appearances for Jurgen Klopp's first team, however, and has spent much of the past four seasons out on loan. 

Spells at Crewe Alexandra and Hull City were followed by a successful stint at Derby County in the 2018-19 season.

He spent a season in the Premier League with Bournemouth in 2019-20, scoring seven goals as the Cherries were relegated, while last term he was on loan with Championship side Cardiff City. 

Wilson has been capped 29 times by Wales and featured for the Dragons in their Euro 2020 campaign, receiving a red card in the closing stages of their 4-0 last-16 defeat to Denmark. 

Fulham also announced the signing of goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga on Saturday after he left Tottenham last month, the 29-year-old Argentine signing a two-year deal.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's working relationship with the club he loves is set to carry on until at least 2024 after he signed an extension with Manchester United.

The deal, a pre-season boost as United prepare for a new campaign, came with a glowing endorsement from outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who talked up the "foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch" in the official statement released by the club.

There are obvious reasons to be so optimistic, too, considering the Red Devils finished runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and also reached the Europa League final.

However, as has become a worrying trend of late, they still came up short in the quest for silverware. Solskjaer's new deal, plus the signing of Jadon Sancho, shows a high degree of faith in the current regime, but also shortens the list of excuses if the near-misses continue.

Partnerships in football can sour swiftly if things do not pan out as hoped – the previous manager to occupy the home dugout at Old Trafford knows that only too well...

A sign of better times after life under Mourinho

Solskjaer has a win rate of 52.6 per cent in the Premier League since taking charge. His average of 1.86 points per game sits him third on the United list since the competition's inception, behind an undoubted club legend and a former boss who knows an extension is not always a guarantee of sticking around.

Jose Mourinho triumphed in exactly 50 of his 93 league games in charge. In contrast to the man who replaced him, the Portuguese had early success with United as well, winning the EFL Cup and the Europa League in his first season.

Those seemingly solid foundations subsided quickly, though. He was handed an extension in January 2018 yet was gone inside a year, dismissed amid dissatisfaction with not just results on the pitch but also the style of play. A defeat to Liverpool at Anfield proved to be the final straw.

Mourinho fell seven games short of his Premier League century with the Red Devils, caught out by his entrenched views on how the team should be set up as he seemingly failed to grasp the club's traditions.

Solskjaer now has his hundred within sight, a number that seemed highly improbable when he flew in from Molde to answer United's SOS (Save Our Season) call. The trip to Wolves on August 29, United's third outing in 2021-22, following on from games against Leeds United and Southampton, will see him reach three figures in the Premier League. 

In doing so, he will become the first manager to make it to the milestone with United since Alex Ferguson. Matching his league success rate of 65.2 per cent may appear a tall order, but the team have been trending in the right direction after mixed times under the stewardship of more illustrious names.

United's 73 league goals they scored last term were the highest tallied in the post-Ferguson era, while 12 away wins in the top flight were also the most since the Scot stepped aside. All they need to do now is work out a way to get over the hump, whether that be at home or abroad.

Finding the balance in the quest for success

Upon his arrival in December 2018, Solskjaer cited the "very talented squad" at his disposal. That group which struggled for points in the dying embers of Mourinho's reign went unbeaten in his first 12 league games, a run that helped the caretaker stick around in the job for a while longer.

A Champions League away win over Paris Saint-Germain provided further ammunition to suggest the Norwegian should be retained on a permanent basis (he would receive a three-year deal). Marcus Rashford scored the winner from the penalty spot on that famous night in the French capital, one of his 52 goals under Solskjaer.

No player has managed more than the England international, who also tops the list for appearances (128). Mason Greenwood – another product of the academy system that remains so highly valued by both club officials and supporters – has 29 goals in 105 appearances.

There have been hugely successful signings, too, with Bruno Fernandes (40 goals in just 80 games) the pick of the bunch. Edinson Cavani, who scored 17 times in the 2020-21 season, proved an astute bit of business as well, a free transfer that paid off spectacularly as a much-needed focal point in the forward line.

Rashford, Greenwood, Fernandes and Cavani demonstrate the "good balance" within the squad that Solskjaer mentioned in the announcement of his new contract. Sancho joining from Borussia Dortmund only adds even greater depth to the attacking options, having returned to Manchester – albeit the other side of the divide – after dazzling during his time in the Bundesliga.

A centre-back, quite possibly Raphael Varane, would help bolster the back-line that gave up 44 league goals in the previous season, but Solskjaer has plenty to work with already.

He spoke both prior to the end of the league season and also in the aftermath of losing on penalties to Villarreal in the Europa League showpiece about the need to strengthen the squad, calling for two or three high-profile signings.

Sancho is certainly one of those, while Varane would tick that box as well, so it seems the much-maligned owners board are set to grant him his wish.

United have shown faith in Solskjaer throughout and now he needs to repay them in the only way possible – by winning trophies.

Paul Pogba remains in talks with Manchester United over a new contract and is looking forward to the coming campaign getting under way, according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The France international's future has once again been called into question amid reports he has reached a stalemate in discussions over a deal to stay at Old Trafford.

Pogba is due to become a free agent in a little under a year's time and is now rumoured to be a €50million (£43m) target for Paris Saint-Germain.

However, Solskjaer remains confident the 28-year-old – who has spent five seasons with United in his second spell with the club – will remain in place beyond this window.

"Talks are ongoing between Paul's representative and the club representatives," Solskjaer said. "All the dialogue I've had with Paul is that he's looking forward to the season.

"There's always speculation about Paul, the talks between Paul and his representatives. I'm not in the detail of every single one. I've got nothing to say about that really.

"Paul knows what we feel about it and I've enjoyed my time working with him and hopefully we can continue working together."

Pogba has yet to link up with United for pre-season training, having being given an extended break after playing four times for France at Euro 2020.

The ex-Juventus midfielder scored one goal and assisted another for France at the tournament, while his eight chances created were second only to Antoine Griezmann (10) among Les Bleus players.

Speaking after United's 4-2 friendly defeat to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday, Solskjaer suggested Pogba could link up with his United team-mates in the next couple of days. 

"Many will join in training on Monday so they've got a few weeks to catch up," he told MUTV of United's players involved at the Euros and Copa America. 

"That's unfortunately the way it is; every year where there is a tournament, we have to catch up. Hopefully, they've done the work we've told them to do when they're away."

New signing Jadon Sancho and fellow England internationals Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire, who reached the Euro 2020 final, along with Copa America finalist Fred will "return in about 10 days' time", however.

Solskjaer had already confirmed ahead of United's defeat at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium that full-back Alex Telles will miss "a few weeks" with an ankle injury sustained in training.

United's next pre-season friendly is against Brentford at Old Trafford on Wednesday, followed by games with Preston North End and Everton before their Premier League opener at home to Leeds United on August 14.

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of standing still this year. A day after sealing the signing of Jadon Sancho, they confirmed a new contract for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer until at least 2024.

But there's still plenty to press on with for Solskjaer and United. While the signing of Sancho addresses one area that has been a problem in recent years, it appears there are still two glaring weaknesses in the first-choice starting XI.

It would seem United have identified the man to take care of one of them, with Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane reportedly set to bolster their defensive options. In one sense it will have been a signing long in the making, given the club were supposedly close to buying him from Lens as a teenager only for Los Blancos to get the deal over the line in the end.

Although it took Varane a little time to truly establish himself at the Santiago Bernabeu, he's gone on to enjoy a hugely successful time in the Spanish capital, winning three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns, among a host of other trophies.

Below, Stats Perform delves into the Opta data to see how Varane might improve United and where else they could do with reinforcements.

 

Physical dominance is the key

There are some obvious strengths that Varane would bring to United at the back – chief among them is his pace, which they arguably don't have a great deal of at centre-back.

While Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire may not be considered painfully slow, neither boasts the same kind of speed as the Frenchman and that would undoubtedly be a considerable asset for United.

Recent reports have suggested Solskjaer wants to play more attack-minded football in 2021-22, and having a faster centre-back could be crucial in that sense.

In theory, it would allow United to play slightly higher up the pitch. While they didn't exactly defend deep in 2020-21, their average starting position of 42.3 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams – Varane's pace could potentially provide them with a little more security in a high line.

In terms of possession, there's not a great deal separating Varane and Lindelof, the man whose position is surely in doubt. The Sweden international averaged fractionally more successful passes (58.1 to 55.9) and accurate passes in the opposing half (17.81 to 17.77) per 90 minutes last season, but that could be a reflection of slightly differing styles of play implemented by the teams rather than ability.

Opta sequence data suggests they are similar as well. While Lindelof (14) may have been involved in four more goal-ending passing sequences, the expected goals (xG) value attached to Varane in those instances is actually higher (8.9 to 8.8), meaning the current United man's influence is likely being exaggerated by particularly good finishing from his team-mates.

Even their ball carrying tendencies aren't hugely different, though Lindelof does boast a greater average carry distance of 11.3m to 10.9m, while his average progress up the pitch of 5.7m is a minor improvement on the 5.4m posted by the Madrid man.

But it could be argued United don't need their right-sided centre-back to be forward-thinking all the time because that's one of Maguire's key strengths. If anything, having a dependable partner could allow for their captain to have even greater prominence going forward, as he may feel more relaxed about stepping up with better protection behind.

 

And that's where Varane could really shine as an upgrade on Lindelof. The Swede's effectiveness in physical duels has been routinely questioned since he joined from Benfica in 2017 – a prime example being when Mbaye Diagne bullied him as West Brom scored in their 1-1 draw with United in February.

While it's impossible to guarantee Varane wouldn't have also been dominated in that instance, he does have a better record in situations where physicality is important. In 2020-21, he won 2.4 aerial duels per game across all competitions compared to Lindelof's 1.8.

That equates to a 72.3 per cent success rate for Varane, as opposed to 59.4 for Lindelof. In fact, Maguire – the most dominant defender in that respect in the Premier League last season (100 duels or more) – only marginally edges the World Cup winner (72.9 per cent).

But when we broaden the comparison to encompass all duels, Varane comes out on top among all three of them (66.5 per cent). Maguire wins 63.8 per cent of those contests, whereas that drops to 53.1 per cent for Lindelof.

United fans have been crying out for a more physically dominant defender to partner Maguire, and in Varane they may have identified a centre-back to rival him in those stakes.

Is the Fred-McTominay axis necessary?

Centre-back certainly isn't the only area United fans would be eager to see an upgrade – there's little doubt they have room for growth in midfield, regardless of whether or not Paul Pogba leaves.

The Frenchman actually featured more from the left during the second half of 2020-21 and looked more comfortable out there with some creative freedom, rather than sitting behind Bruno Fernandes in the middle.

That meant Fred and Scott McTominay were, more often than not, the first-choice pairing at the base of the midfield.

Now, it must be said that both players have clearly improved significantly over the past couple of years and they do offer a lot to United in certain areas.

 

For instance, in the Premier League in 2020-21, Fred won possession more often than any other United player (228) and his 81 tackle attempts were only bettered by Aaron Wan-Bissaka (88). McTominay ranked fourth for tackles (51) and joint-second for fouls won (42), which speaks to his improved ability on the ball as well as a knack for relieving defensive pressure in transition.

But neither are particularly creative. Fred laid on 25 key passes with an expected assists (xA) value of 2.1, while McTominay created 17 chances that combined to an xA total of 0.7.

Of course, you can't expect every outfield player to offer creativity. In many cases a player's productivity – or lack of – is intrinsically linked to the role they're playing or system they're part of, and Fernandes has done a lot of the heavy lifting. But United are a side who generally have more of the ball than their opponents – do they need two 'destroyers'?

 

If Solskjaer is to implement a more forward-thinking setup in 2021-22, he would be wise to finally ditch the Fred-McTominay axis. More often than not, it comes across as extremely conservative.

 

But the caveat to that is Solskjaer's rather limited options. Donny van de Beek endured a pretty dreadful first season as he showed very little authority whenever he played, Pogba was more useful towards the left so his lack of work rate off the ball wasn't exposed, and Nemanja Matic just isn't athletic enough anymore even if he is still a talented ball-player.

Pressure now on Ole

Who's to say if another midfielder, Varane and Sancho will be enough to overthrow Manchester City while also holding off a Liverpool side who promise to be back with a vengeance and defending European champions Chelsea.

But such decisive addressing of the team's weak points should at least give Solskjaer the right tools to work with. It'll then be on him to prove conclusively he's the right man for the job, because further under-achieving with such a strong squad won't be tolerated for long, regardless of his new contract.

Jose Mourinho was sacked less than a year after signing his renewal in January 2018.

Tottenham have confirmed the signing of Pierluigi Gollini from Atalanta, with the goalkeeper initially joining on a season-long loan deal that includes an option to buy.

Gollini has played 89 Serie A games across the past five seasons for Atalanta, having joined the Serie A club after a spell in English football at Aston Villa.

The 26-year-old had previously spent time at Manchester United earlier in his career, too, but it was at Hellas Verona where he made his first-team debut during the 2014-15 season.

After representing Italy at youth level, he made his debut for the Azzurri when coming on as a late substitute in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 2019, though that remains his only international appearance to date.

Now part of Nuno Espirito Santos' squad at Spurs, Gollini is looking forward to working alongside Hugo Lloris – but also plans to prove he is a long-term option to be the new number one.

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