Rumour Has It: Messi in no rush to extend Barcelona contract

By Sports Desk November 12, 2019

Lionel Messi is seemingly in no rush to extend his Barcelona contract.

Messi's future is regularly talked about after it was revealed earlier this year the superstar can leave the LaLiga giants for free at the end of any season.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner is contracted at Barcelona until 2021, though it remains to be seen if he wants to stay on beyond his current deal.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI IN NO RUSH OVER BARCELONA CONTRACT

Messi has no intention of discussing a contract extension at Barcelona until next season, according to Marca.

The 32-year-old plans to be at the club next season, the report says, but will not open talks regarding a new deal.

Messi has been at Barcelona during his entire professional career, winning 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues among numerous other trophies.

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are looking to the future. Sport reports the Ligue 1 giants are seriously considering a move for Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior. Kylian Mbappe and Neymar have been linked with moves away from PSG and the 19-year-old could help the French club going forward.

- Manchester City and Real Madrid could be set for a transfer battle. The clubs are interested in Real Sociedad and Spain forward Mikel Oyarzabal, according to CalcioMercato. The 22-year-old has scored 29 LaLiga goals since the start of 2017-18.

- Unai Emery has some time. The Sun reports the under-fire Arsenal head coach will be given until 2020 to turn the club's form around. It also reports Manchester City would allow assistant Mikel Arteta – an ex-Arsenal midfielder – to head to Emirates Stadium, should his former club want to appoint the Spaniard.

- Liverpool could strengthen in January. TalkSPORT reports the Premier League leaders are in advanced talks with Bournemouth over a deal to sign winger Ryan Fraser, who is out of contract at the end of the season. Bournemouth may want Harry Wilson – who is on loan from Liverpool – as part of a deal.

- Struggling in ninth in Serie A, Fiorentina may be ready to move on from Vincenzo Montella. The club are ready to make an approach for former Inter coach Luciano Spalletti, according to Firenze Viola.

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  • Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback decision looms but defense the real issue Atlanta Falcons: Quarterback decision looms but defense the real issue

    There's a new era in Atlanta and, following the hiring of Arthur Smith as head coach, there is plenty of cause for Falcons fans to be hopeful of better days ahead. 

    Things can hardly get much worse than in 2020, when the Falcons slumped to a 4-12 record, with head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff fired after an 0-5 start. 

    Smith's arrival will foster optimism the offense can scale new heights in 2021, the former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator having played a pivotal role in revitalising Ryan Tannehill's career.  

    But he and new GM Terry Fontenot have some significant decisions to make in a challenging offseason if their partnership is to hit the ground running in 2021. 

    Using Stats Perform data, we reflect on the year that was for the Falcons and look at what they will need to do to improve on a rather forgettable campaign. 

    Offense 

    You will find few quarterbacks who experienced more frustrating seasons than Matt Ryan, who continued to serve as one of the most productive signal-callers in the NFL in 2020. 

    He was fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,581 and was tied seventh in big plays, delivering 32 completions of 25 yards or more. 

    The big-play element that was clearly present in the Falcons' offense contributed to them finishing the year ninth in scoring efficiency. 

    Despite Ryan's performances in leading a prolific group, the Falcons never threatened to contend. 

    On the offensive side of the ball, the running game should take a large portion of the blame for that failure.

    The Falcons were not a balanced offense, with Atlanta averaging just 3.75 yards per run play. The Pittsburgh Steelers (3.62) were the sole team to fare worse on the ground.

    Atlanta's 34 rushes of 10 yards or more were tied for 30th in the NFL, the production from running backs Todd Gurley and Brian Hill not living up to that of Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones in the passing game.

    Ridley was tied-fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,374 while no pass-catcher had more than his 23 receptions of 20 yards or more.

    While the running game needs to improve, the primary reason for the stellar efforts of Ryan and Ridley being wasted was the dismal play of a porous defense.

    Defense

    Worryingly for a Falcons franchise that invested a great deal in the defense in last year's draft, opponents moved the ball and scored on Atlanta at will in 2020. 

    Atlanta ranked 23rd in offensive points allowed, giving up 414, with opposing passing games racking up 7.18 yards per play against the Falcons. 

    Just three teams - the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings - were more susceptible to the pass by that measure. 

    The Falcons will hope for better out of last year's first-round pick A.J. Terrell, who was consistently exploited by quarterbacks and receivers in a trying rookie season. 

    Terrell was targeted 95 times, the fourth-most of any player in the league, and gave up the third-most receptions (64) and joint-most yards (848).

    In addition to the secondary struggling, the defensive front did not produce the desired pressure on opposing signal-callers, Atlanta finishing tied-23rd with 29 sacks.

    The run defense was a little more of a bright spot, the Falcons 14th in yards per rush allowed with 4.41.

    But the fact they still gave up 49 touchdown drives, the joint-eighth most in the league, despite their relative strength against the run, is indicative of the ground game's decreasing influence on offensive production and the issues in the secondary.

    Simply put, for the Falcons to have a chance of even challenging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, the pass defense must make significant strides. The problem, however, is that the Falcons do not have a great deal of resources with which to make sure it does that.

    Offseason

    There is increasing talk of the Falcons using the fourth overall pick in this year's draft to select Ryan's successor, with Ohio State's Justin Fields, a native of Georgia, a popular choice for them in mock drafts.

    Having the option to rid themselves of Ryan's contract, which will see him carry cap hits of over $40million in 2021 and 2022, and instead start a rookie on a significantly cheaper deal, is something that should appeal to the Falcons.

    But, regardless of the merits of Smith as a play-caller and the talent the Falcons have on offense, Fields or any other eventual replacement for Ryan will not be set up for success until the Falcons fix the defense.

    The issue in that regard is the Falcons are set to be over $12m above an assumed salary cap of $185m.

    That may prohibit them from keeping many of the 11 unrestricted free agents they have on defense, or aggressively pursuing potential signings on that side of the ball.

    Compensatory picks are still to be revealed, but the Falcons are at present set to have just six selections in the 2021 NFL Draft.

    If they do go with a quarterback in the first round, 2021 will likely be Ryan's last as a Falcon. And, should Atlanta prove unable to use their remaining capital to sufficiently improve the defense, the smart money will be on it being another of frustration for the quarterback who came agonisingly close to delivering the franchise its first Super Bowl crown.

  • There's only two N'Golo Kantes? Tuchel blown away by 'world class' Chelsea star There's only two N'Golo Kantes? Tuchel blown away by 'world class' Chelsea star

    N'Golo Kante has put fitness worries behind him and is back to doing the work of two people at Chelsea, winning the approval of new boss Thomas Tuchel in the process.

    Kante did not start any of Tuchel's first five Premier League games in charge at Stamford Bridge and was also restricted to a 16-minute cameo in the 1-0 Champions League win at Atletico Madrid.

    However, Thursday's victory by the same scoreline over Liverpool was Kante's third straight appearance in a Premier League XI and he turned in a typically all-action display.

    The 29-year-old France international gained possession 11 times at Anfield, more than any other Chelsea player, while his 14 duels contested were only bettered by Jorginho and Timo Werner (both 16).

    "Super big," Tuchel replied when asked how important it was to have Kante back to his best.

    "It was clear from the first second in training what this guy is capable of doing. It's unbelievable.

    "You see his intensity and in the physical report after matches, you think they maybe tracked two people and put them into one sheet.

    "It's unbelievable in terms of what he delivers, in terms of intensity, in terms of ball recoveries and devotion to a group. This is world class, the highest level, and very, very happy that he's in our squad."

    Despite not enjoying the most memorable season of his career, the two-time Premier League champion and World Cup winner has made more recoveries (200), tackles (76) and interceptions (57) than any other Chelsea midfielder across all competitions.

    Tuchel has an enviable array of options to deploy in the deeper central midfield positions, with the passing accuracy offered by Mateo Kovacic (91.5 per cent) and Jorginho (89) outstripping the less-smooth Kante (86.6).

    These figures widen from Tuchel's first game in charge against Wolves on January 27 onwards, with Kovacic and Jorginho almost identical on 91.5 and 91.3 respectively, while Kante is back on 82.5 per cent. Indeed, no Chelsea player ceded position more frequently than the former Leicester City man (18) against Liverpool.

    However, Kante brings so much to Chelsea in those aspects more associated with his game.

    Despite having restricted game time under Tuchel so far, his per 90 minutes average for recoveries (9), tackles (4.6), interceptions (2.5) and duels won (7.4) are the best of any Chelsea midfielder during this period.

    For context, none of his other counterparts average more than one interception per game, while Jorginho's average of 2.7 tackles is the next best behind Kante.

    "He comes from injury, he will not now play every game 90 minutes before we arrive at the international break," Tuchel said, adding a note of caution.

    "We have to manage him, we do this together with our physical coaches. We have to take care of him so he arrives fit for the international break and, when he comes back, I hope we can rely on him in every game.

    "I'm very, very happy to have him, Kova and Jorginho in defensive midfield. This is exactly the level we need in games of the highest level. I'm super happy with all of them."

    This competition for places is something Tuchel has already seen to be paying dividends.

    "I feel an unbelievable attitude towards training and towards games, I feel the bond between players that is necessary," he added.

    "In the whole world where football is played, the teams that stand out are the teams that fight for each other, who are ready to sacrifice, who are happy for each other, who push each other from the bench. This is exactly what I found."

  • They are not going to fly - Guardiola rules out internationals for 'red list' Man City players They are not going to fly - Guardiola rules out internationals for 'red list' Man City players

    Pep Guardiola insists it makes "no sense" for players who will have to quarantine upon their return to the UK to go on international duty later this month – stating Manchester City will not release such players.

    In light of on-going coronavirus travel restrictions, FIFA has made the unprecedented move of giving clubs the right to prevent players from joining up with their national teams if the fixtures in question mean a quarantine period of five days or more upon their return.

    In the UK, anyone travelling to 'red list' countries must isolate for 10 days when they come back, with no exemptions granted for elite sportspeople.

    The list features all of South America and parts of Africa. Portugal, the only European country on the list, have sought to mitigate the impact by moving their World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan on March 24 to Turin.

    Although that seemingly frees up City trio Bernardo Silva, Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias, Guardiola will be able to put his foot down when it comes to Argentina striker Sergio Aguero, Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez and Brazil contingent Ederson, Fernandinho and Gabriel Jesus.

    "We didn't speak. We will wait until after this game against United and I am pretty sure that next week we'll talk about that," Guardiola told a news conference ahead of Sunday's Manchester derby.

    "But I think it makes no sense if the players go to the national team and then have to isolate for 10 days when they come back. It makes no sense.

    "We've worked incredibly hard for seven, eight or nine months and after the international break comes the real part of the season, and important players cannot play for 10 days? It makes no sense.

    "They are not going to fly. That’s for sure. If they can fly, play with the national team and come straight back to training, they’ll fly.

    "We invest a lot of time and money for the important part of the season and if six, seven, eight players cannot play with us, it makes no sense, honestly. No sense."

    Guardiola's stance means the runaway Premier League leaders are aligned with the reigning champions after Jurgen Klopp also said Liverpool players from affected countries would not be released.

    The City boss, who famously went against Barcelona's stance during his time as head coach and allowed Lionel Messi to win a gold medal at the 2008 Olympic Games, insists he is not acting to devalue international football – just merely reacting to the realities of these times.

    "We want to let them go to the national team. I know how important it is for them. I'd never say don't go to represent your country and to prepare for the European Cup or American Cup," he added.

    "But it's no sense to do it and not play for 10 days, no training session, be at home, when we are playing for the league.

    "If we go through, we will still be in the Champions League and we don't play with these players.

    "They are not going to fly. I don't know what is going to happen but they are not going to fly, for sure.

    "We've followed the protocols for eight, nine months. No restaurants, closed. The people are here - home, home, here, in the bubble, don't do it [break protocols], protect them, test them every two days.

    "And after, in an important part of the season in the league, we don't have the players because the government has decided it is in a red zone and they cannot play when we are playing every three or four days?

    "They are not going to fly, sure. I'm pretty sure that UEFA or FIFA will understand this argument."

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