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Juan Mata has challenged Manchester United to improve in the coming season after admitting they were not up to standard in 2018-19.

United finished sixth and failed to win a trophy for the second consecutive season, with Jose Mourinho sacked in December and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer unable to salvage success despite a strong start in the Old Trafford dugout.

The Red Devils' failure to lift a first piece of silverware since the 2016 Europa League was made worse as they had to endure fierce rivals Manchester City completing a domestic treble and Liverpool winning the Champions League.

It means Mata, who signed a new two-year deal in June with the option to extend for a further year, is desperate to see some improvement in the coming months.

"We know that last season wasn't good enough. So, we need to improve, we need to try our best in this upcoming season," he said at a sponsor event in Singapore.

"What we have to do is raise our level and compete and let's see where we end up.

"The level in the Premier League is getting better every single year. All the clubs have been bringing very good players. So, we need to try to be at our best."

United have enjoyed an encouraging pre-season, beating Perth Glory and Leeds United in friendly matches and Inter in the International Champions Cup without conceding a goal.

Mata expects difficult games against Tottenham and AC Milan to come but hopes they leave United in good stead for a daunting first Premier League match of the season at home to Chelsea on August 11.

"Tottenham is going to be tough, Milan is going to be tough, so we still have a few difficult games but [we planned] to use these games to get ready for the Chelsea game which is our first official game and that's the important one and the one that we have to be ready to win," he said.

Matthijs de Ligt was left bemused by transfer stories circulating about him before his move to Juventus, particularly one concerning Manchester United and fears about his weight.

The Netherlands international completed a move to Juventus on Thursday in a deal that could cost the Serie A champions €85.5million.

De Ligt, 19, had been one of the most in-demand young players in the world following his exceptional performances as captain of Ajax, who won the Eredivisie and reached the Champions League semi-finals last season.

He was linked with a possible move to United until a story emerged in the Daily Mirror suggesting a scout had warned the Red Devils off making a bid as De Ligt would be susceptible to gaining weight as he got older, like his father.

De Ligt says such claims left him truly baffled, even amid the persistent speculation over where he would be playing football next season.

"Every day, there was something new," he told Voetbal International. "Suddenly, even my father was too fat and that's why one of the clubs wouldn't want me. That makes you go, 'Come on, man...'"

There was another rumour De Ligt turned down Paris Saint-Germain because he wanted a higher wage than Kylian Mbappe, something he previously told Algemeen Dagblad was "insane".

"Money played no role at all in my choice for a new club," he said. "Everyone who knows me, knows that. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I will respect that, but some people were saying things like that [PSG story] very easily."

De Ligt is the latest high-profile player to secure a big-money transfer through the hugely successful agent Mino Raiola, who counts Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Verratti among his clients.

"He has a lot of experience," De Ligt said of Raiola. "I think there may be a certain negative image of him in Holland, but I certainly don't experience it that way.

"I think if you ask all of his players if Mino does a good job for them, everyone would say yes. That's the most important thing. It's not about what other people say about him, it's about what he can do for me."

Daniel James feels driven to succeed at Manchester United following the loss of his father prior to his transfer from Swansea City.

The Wales winger has enjoyed an encouraging pre-season with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side following his move from the Championship club for a reported £15million.

James' father, Kevan, died only weeks before he completed his switch to Old Trafford.

Speaking after United's 1-0 International Champions Cup victory over Inter, James said: "Every day, I miss him. He always drove me on when he was here.

"There are times when I am a bit down about it but what he would say is just keep playing and working hard.

"I know he is looking down on me now, still driving me on."

James has started all three of United's pre-season games so far - against Perth Glory, Leeds United and Inter - and has been praised for his performances by Solskjaer.

He almost scored his first goal for the club against Leeds when he sprinted beyond Marcus Rashford and shot against the base of the post after being played through on goal.

But James is not getting carried away by his performances, with United still to play Tottenham, Kristiansund and AC Milan before beginning the 2019-20 Premier League campaign against Chelsea on August 11.

"It is pleasing but there are three more games to the start of the season," he said.

Gareth Bale's days at Real Madrid appear to be numbered after head coach Zinedine Zidane confirmed the club are working on a transfer for the forward.

Zidane was billed a "disgrace" by Bale's agent Jonathan Barnett, who has previously confirmed the coach and player have a fraught relationship, with the Frenchman seemingly not valuing Bale's ability despite his contribution to three consecutive Champions League titles.

It was Bale's double that sealed Madrid's last European crown a year ago, a stunning overhead kick contributing to a 3-1 defeat of Liverpool in Kiev that proved Zidane's last match in charge - soon after he announced his shock resignation.

But Zidane is back and seemingly set on selling Bale, so what are the options available to the Wales international now the Madrid coach has clearly signalled he has no place for him?

 

TOTTENHAM

The romantic option, a return to Tottenham would enable Bale to play first-team football and slot back into a club where he became a global superstar. Finances would surely scupper a permanent move although Spurs have smashed their club record to buy Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele and are reportedly considering doing so again to sign Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis. An initial loan has been mooted but Madrid would still likely have to cover a large portion of Bale's massive wages - how desperate are they to move him on? Bale would certainly improve Mauricio Pochettino's forward options and a front three of Son Heung-min, Harry Kane and Bale looks incredibly strong on paper.


MANCHESTER UNITED

Bale has long been linked with United, but their failure to qualify for the Champions League does not make them an attractive option for top-level players right now although they remain among the world's biggest clubs. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also indicated he is willing to put his faith in young players such as the talented teenager Mason Greenwood, who has impressed in pre-season to force his way into first-team contention at Old Trafford despite being just 17. Bale would be an upgrade on United's wing options but they seem to be going in a different direction with the arrivals of Dan James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka signalling a long-needed change in transfer policy. Madrid's reported interest in Paul Pogba could see Bale offered to United as part of a potential deal, though.


PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN

If PSG lose Neymar - the club confirmed recently he wants to leave - they will have room for another elite talent and Bale might just fit the bill. Whether moving to what is essentially a one-team league due to PSG's financial firepower is attractive to the Welshman is unclear, but teaming up with a thrilling talent like Kylian Mbappe could be persuasive. PSG are also one of a very small number of teams who could pay Bale the wages he has become accustomed to earning in Madrid and he has plenty of experience of winning the Champions League, which remains PSG's goal.


CHINESE SUPER LEAGUE

According to the bookmakers, Bale's most likely next destination is the Chinese Super League. Finances are again the key here, although CSL clubs have shown a reduced willingness over the last 12 months to pursue the most expensive players on the market due to a change in the league's regulations, which means they must pay considerable taxes on top of large transfer fees. Bale has been unable - or perhaps unwilling - to learn Spanish while in Madrid so it would be interesting to see how he would fare with the culture clash in China.


STAY AT REAL MADRID

Reports in Spain previously claimed Bale is happy to see out his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu, which still has three years to run. It would be a tempting option given no other clubs are likely to match his pay packet, while the lack of stability in the dugout could play in his favour. Zidane was Madrid's third permanent head coach last term and failed to inspire any significant improvement in the latter weeks of the 2018-19 campaign. Although the Frenchman has considerable credit from his trio of consecutive Champions League titles, it is not impossible to see Madrid starting the season poorly and president Florentino Perez opting for yet another change of head coach. Another man in charge could see Bale as an asset so the 30-year-old may choose to stay put for now.

Christian Eriksen put some of Europe's biggest clubs on alert when he declared he would "like to try something new" and now it seems the Tottenham star could make a surprise move.

Initial speculation suggested that Real Madrid would make a move for the talented Spurs playmaker.

As the 2019-20 season draws ever closer, however, it could be that another Spanish giant – and neighbours of Real Madrid – steal a march in the quest to land the Denmark international.

 

TOP STORY – ATLETI AND TOTTENHAM IN ERIKSEN TALKS

Atletico Madrid have enjoyed a productive transfer window – despite losing Antoine Griezmann, Rodri and Diego Godin – and could be set to swoop for Tottenham's Christian Eriksen.

The Dane has spent six seasons with the north London club but is ready for a new challenge and could join former team-mate Kieran Trippier in the Spanish capital.

AS reports that the two clubs have started discussions over a fee for the 27-year-old, with Spurs likely to demand in excess of €70million.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain have found their target if Neymar gets his desired move away from the Parc des Princes. According to RMC Sport, Juventus midfielder Paulo Dybala is PSG's top option if Neymar leaves.

- James Rodriguez is linked with the likes of Atletico Madrid and Napoli, and Real Madrid want around €40m for the playmaker, according to Marca.

- David de Gea will become the world's highest paid goalkeeper. The Manchester United shot-stopper has agreed to a six-year deal worth around £117m with the Premier League giants, according to The Telegraph.

- Arsenal could land Moise Kean from Juventus, but only if any deal includes a buy-back clause. The Daily Mail say Juve will insist on a £36m (€40.1m) clause in a possible deal involving the forward.

- Danny Rose is widely expected to leave Tottenham this close season, with numerous clubs linked with the left-back. Now, the Mirror report Serie A champions Juventus are the frontrunners to sign the defender.

- After Aaron Wan-Bissaka's move to Manchester United, Crystal Palace may have found their replacement. The Daily Mail report Palace have held further talks over a potential deal for Liverpool right-back Nathaniel Clyne.

Leicester City star Harry Maguire has not been affected by links to Manchester United and Manchester City, insisted captain Wes Morgan.

Maguire has emerged as a target for Manchester neighbours United and City, with the Red Devils reportedly the favourites to sign the England centre-back.

Leicester have rejected two bids for Maguire, who is thought to be valued at £80million by the Premier League side, as the 26-year-old's future continues to dominate headlines.

Amid the transfer rumours, Leicester defender Morgan said in-demand team-mate Maguire has not changed.

"He has been the same Harry that we know and love," said Morgan. "You can see in the games he's putting 100 per cent effort into everything he does and his quality is there for everyone to see. 

"I don't know what's going to happen in the future but for now he's still a Leicester player and we enjoy having him here. He's said nothing.

"There's going to be speculation because he's a top-class player who has done well at international level. Big teams are going to take an interest and that goes for many of our top players. People want our best players and he is one of them.

"In training, it's the same old banter, the same old training. He's part of Leicester so we just treat him the same."

 

Lazio will not stop Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from moving on to fulfil his ambitions at one of Europe's biggest clubs but the Serie A side have not received a concrete offer, according to president Claudio Lotito.

Milinkovic-Savic, 24, has been linked to Premier League giants Manchester United and Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

Lazio are reportedly refusing to consider bids under €80million for star midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, who was the subject of strong interest prior to the 2018-19 season.

Amid ongoing speculation over Serbia international Milinkovic-Savic, Lotito told Sky Sport Italia: "The important thing is that we have today built a club that is no longer just a stepping stone to bigger things, but many players dream of coming here.

"Last year, I fought hard to ensure Milinkovic-Savic didn't leave. This season, I certainly have fewer weapons to call upon if the situation should arise again.

"That doesn't mean the club is working actively to sell him. Certainly, Milinkovic-Savic on a personal level has other ambitions and that seems fair, so we won't clip his wings.

"We understand it's important for a player to step up to one of the biggest clubs in the world. However, a player only has a price-tag when he is for sale and the transfer market is dictated by action, not words.

"When a concrete proposal arrives, we'll examine it and see what the conditions are, whether they satisfy the club and the decisions we'll then make."

Milinkovic-Savic scored seven goals in all competitions last season as Lazio won the Coppa Italia and finished eighth in Serie A.

 

Antonio Conte says it is his "will and hope" that Inter sign Romelu Lukaku but concedes a potential transfer is out of his hands.

Lukaku missed Manchester United's 1-0 win over Inter on Saturday, just hours after widespread reports that the Red Devils had turned down a £54million bid from the Serie A side for the Belgium international.

Inter look set to sell Mauro Icardi during the close season and Conte has made no secret of his desire to bring Lukaku to San Siro.

Speaking after the defeat to United in Singapore, Conte again revealed his desire to link up with the 26-year-old.

"He is a United player and for this reason we must show great respect for the club, for the player and also for my own players," he told a media conference.

"Lukaku is a player that I like because I consider him a player that could improve our team. On one side is my hope and my will and on the other side we will see what we find with the club."

Conte, meanwhile, has suggested that Ivan Perisic does not fit into the system that he wants to play at Inter.

The Croatia star was introduced as a half-time substitute against United but Conte was not impressed with his contribution, believing it fell short of the standard set by Dalbert on the left flank.

"We are working but the answers are not positive," the Inter boss said of Perisic. "I don't think he is adapting to the role that I asked him to do.

"The only place he can play right now is as a striker. On the other hand, I saw Dalbert applying himself greatly in this match.

"We have to improve so much from all points of view. We have a lot of work to do and we will do it."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer likened Mason Greenwood's emergence at Manchester United to club legend Ryan Giggs after the teenage attacker starred against Inter.

Greenwood scored his second pre-season goal when he fired home an excellent 76th-minute winner in United's deserved 1-0 victory in the International Champions Cup.

The woodwork later denied the substitute a brace in what was a lively a second-half cameo.

Solskjaer has already seen enough to fast-track the 17-year-old into his first-team calculations, much as Alex Ferguson did with a wiry Giggs in 1991.

"Mason has never been on my [list to] send out on loan," Solskjaer said.

"He's one we have to keep at our place, keep him playing when we think it's good for him and at the moment he's fine.

"He reminds me of the Giggsy story. You can't really send him on loan. For me he's ready to be in this squad.

"He's been with us the last few months and he's grown in confidence, grown in stature

"When you've got players in good form it's difficult to keep them out.

"But we've got to keep our feet on the ground with him as well because we know he's only 17 and there will be ups and downs, but at the moment he's enjoying his football."

United performed well to see off the Serie A side but it was not all good news for the Red Devils, who lost Victor Lindelof to a seemingly minor muscle problem early in the second half.

Tahith Chong also made way towards the end of the contest after receiving some heavy challenges.

"We don't know yet... I think they should be okay," Solskjaer told MUTV when asked for an update on the pair.

"We'll have to assess [Lindelof] tomorrow."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he is impressed with how Manchester United are performing without the injured Romelu Lukaku.

The Belgium international is yet to feature for United in pre-season, with Solskjaer citing fitness issues for his continued absence from the team.

Lukaku missed United's 1-0 International Champions Cup win over Inter on Saturday, with reports circulating before kick-off that the Serie A side had seen a £54million bid turned down for the 26-year-old.

Young striker Mason Greenwood scored the decisive goal against Antonio Conte's men and Solskjaer says he is pleased with how his side is shaping up ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

"I think we have done really well without Romelu, but we all know he is one of the top, top strikers in the world," he told a media conference.

"We played a different way, maybe, with Anthony [Martial], Marcus [Rashford] and Mason.

"As a coach you adapt to the players that are available. We're looking forward to the game against Tottenham [on Thursday] and let's see who is available for that game."

Solskjaer was unable to put a timescale on Lukaku's return to fitness and says the striker will be "concerned" about his lack of time on the pitch.

"If you're a player and you don't manage to train for a week, and he's missed three games now, I think he'll be concerned," the manager added.

"He's working to get back on the pitch and we'll see how long that takes."

Mason Greenwood's second pre-season goal gave Manchester United a richly deserved 1-0 win over Inter in the International Champions Cup in Singapore.

On as a second-half substitute, teenager Greenwood demonstrated composure beyond his years when he rifled home the only goal in the 76th minute.

His fine finish consigned Antonio Conte to defeat in his first match in charge of Inter, which was played against the backdrop of transfer speculation surrounding Romelu Lukaku.

The injured striker played no part in the wake of reports Inter had unsuccessfully tabled a £54million bid, an offer United might reconsider if Greenwood's emergence continues.

United welcomed David de Gea and Luke Shaw back into the starting XI and the latter went closest to an early opener, fizzing a shot past Samir Handanovic's left post.

Anthony Martial tested the Inter captain with a dipping drive midway through the half and the Premier League side's lively start should have been rewarded with the opener on the 30-minute mark.

Shaw escaped into space on the left flank and dragged a cut-back towards Marcus Rashford, but goalkeeper Handanovic got just enough of a touch to muddle the striker's feet.

Daniel James sliced wide from a promising position towards the end of the first half and the pressure on Inter did not relent in the moments after the interval.

Martial this time sliced through a static defence and provided Jesse Lingard with a golden scoring opportunity, but his unconvincing finish was hacked off the line.

United skipper Nemanja Matic then headed against the upright from the resultant corner.

Substitutes Andreas Pereira and Tahith Chong had appeals for penalties waved away as Inter continued to cling on, although a raft of substitutions on both sides did somewhat stymie the flow of proceedings.

That was until Greenwood clinically punished a poor Handanovic punch, twisting away from a tackle in the box and making no mistake with a rasping finish.

An instinctive effort from the goal-scorer found the woodwork with 10 minutes to play but his impression on the match - and surely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - had already been made.

Maurizio Sarri has hinted he would like Paul Pogba to leave Manchester United and join Juventus.

Pogba's agent Mino Raiola has confirmed the midfielder wants to leave Old Trafford, three years after he returned for a second spell.

The France midfielder was nevertheless named in United's starting line-up for Saturday's International Champions Cup clash with Inter.

But Juve's new head coach Sarri, speaking ahead of their ICC game against Tottenham, opened the door to a potential transfer.

"I like him very much, but he's a Manchester United player," Sarri told a news conference. 

"I'm not the technical director [Fabio Paratici] so I don't know the situation."

Pogba, who played for Juve between 2012 and 2016, started renewed speculation over his future by saying he wanted a "new challenge" last month.

The World Cup winner has been linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as Juve.

The Neymar saga has dominated the narrative at Paris Saint-Germain in recent days, with his future yet to be settled.

But the Ligue 1 champions still have moves to make themselves in the remaining weeks of the transfer market.

And PSG might back themselves to tempt an out-of-favour Juventus star to make the switch to France.

 

TOP STORY – PSG MAKE APPROACH FOR DYBALA

If Neymar does leave Paris, Paulo Dybala would represent a fine replacement. He is an option, according to RMC Sport.

It is reported PSG have approached Dybala's camp, with any deal quite separate from Neymar's future.

A fee of less than €50million could be enough to see Juventus sell, with Dybala no longer a vital cog following Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival last year.

 

ROUND-UP

- Dybala might not be the only Juventus player heading to Ligue 1, though. Le Parisien have reported PSG interest in Blaise Matuidi, who Sky Sport Italia say is also a target for Monaco.

- Further movement in Serie A could see Suso heading off. According to Calcio Mercato, the AC Milan star is a target for Roma. The Rossoneri will ask for close to €40m despite the midfielder appearing to be out of favour.

- Working rather harder to keep a key man are Tottenham. They will offer Christian Eriksen £200,000 a week to keep Real Madrid at bay, according to the Daily Mail.

- With Laurent Koscielny's future at Arsenal uncertain, Unai Emery's captaincy group will look quite different next season. According to the Mail, Rob Holding or Calum Chambers could be in line to be skipper.

- Their London neighbours Chelsea, meanwhile, are set to temporarily part ways with Ethan Ampadu. The teenager is on the brink of joining RB Leipzig on loan, according to the Guardian, and could be joined at the Bundesliga club by Ademola Lookman of Everton.

- But as one young prospect arrives in Germany, another might be on the way out. Bild say Barcelona are keen on Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, who is also said to be in the sights of Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

Steve Bruce has revealed David Beckham backed him in taking the Newcastle United job despite Alan Shearer's doubts.

Boyhood Magpies fan Bruce was appointed as the club's head coach this week, replacing Rafael Benitez, whose popular reign ended as he failed to agree with controversial owner Mike Ashley on a route forward.

Newcastle supporters are set to boycott their first match of the Premier League season amid anger at Ashley, while the arrival of Bruce - a former Sunderland boss - has not gone down well with many.

Club great Shearer, Bruce's friend, was vocal in advising the new man against moving to St James' Park, but ex-Manchester United team-mate Beckham was more positive.

"Tons of them [were positive]," Bruce said of his friends. "'You've got to do it,' people said.

"I don't want to mention names, but David Beckham was one of them. I'll have to show my daughter that text message.

"[Shearer] said 'no, no, no'. I said 'yes, yes, yes'. He's a big friend and he's a big Newcastle fan, but I had no hesitation as soon as I got the phone call.

"When it became real, there was no hesitation. I had to have a crack."

One of Bruce's first tasks at Newcastle will be to settle the future of Sean Longstaff, who is linked with a switch to Old Trafford.

Bruce is adamant Longstaff will not leave amid reports of a £50million valuation.

"[Longstaff] is a player we want to keep, he's had a remarkable rise," the coach said. "He is everything you would want in a player, big and athletic and he handles the ball well.

"We've got to be mindful of the fact he's had a nasty injury, we've got to nurture him through pre-season so he is ready for Arsenal [on the opening day].

"He is the type of player you want to build your team around. I’ve only seen him for a day, but he has had an unbelievable rise. He very much reminds me of a Michael Carrick.

"I'm not aware that he is going to Manchester United, I'm not aware of that at all."

Dimitar Berbatov feels criticism of Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku is unfair and hopes the Belgian stays at Old Trafford.

Lukaku joined United from Everton in a £75million deal in 2017, scoring 28 goals in 66 Premier League games since then, but his performances have been much maligned.

The former Chelsea man has been heavily linked with a switch to Inter as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shakes up his United squad ahead of the new season.

But Berbatov, who played under Alex Ferguson for four years at United, would prefer to see Lukaku remain at the club.

"I hope Lukaku is staying because he's a good player and the criticism he's facing is not fair," he told the Straits Times.

However, Berbatov believes United would have the firepower to cope with Lukaku's departure, backing Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford for big seasons.

"I am calm because I like Martial a lot," he said. "I used to play with him in Monaco a lot and I know that he is really good and that he can be even better.

"I like Rashford as well; he can develop and become even better."

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