Rumour Has It: Donnarumma set to leave Milan for Juve as Allegri waits for Madrid amid Turin links

By Sports Desk May 25, 2021

Is the Gianluigi Donnarumma-Milan relationship coming to an end?

Donnarumma made his debut as a 16-year-old for Milan in 2015, however, the Italy international is reportedly close to making the move to Serie A rivals Juventus.

Step forward Mike Maignan…

 

TOP STORY – DONNARUMMA OUT, MAIGNAN IN?

Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan is poised to undergo a medical with Milan as Gianluigi Donnarumma edges closer to a blockbuster Juventus switch, according to widespread reports.

Donnarumma is set to become a free agent and the Milan star is yet to re-sign with the Rossoneri, who qualified for the Champions League.

Gianluca Di Marzio reports Milan are no longer waiting on Donnarumma as they step up their pursuit of Maignan, who will arrive in Italy on Tuesday after helping Lille to Ligue 1 glory.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says Massimiliano Allegri's priority is to take charge of Real Madrid, despite interest from former club Juve and Napoli in Serie A. Allegri is the favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane should he leave the Spanish capital. Despite securing a top-four finish, Andrea Pirlo is being tipped to leave Juve.

- There is set to be a coaching merry-go-round in Serie A this off-season. The front page of Tuesday's Corriere dello Sport says Porto boss Sergio Conceicao is favourite to succeed Gennaro Gattuso at Napoli, with the latter tipped to replace Simone Inzaghi at Lazio. Ex-Roma head coach Paulo Fonseca is the new first choice to join Fiorentina.

Inter must sell one star – Lautaro Martinez or Alessandro Bastoni – due to their financial situation, according to Corriere dello Sport. Martinez has been linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Bastoni has attracted interest from Liverpool and Manchester City. There is also speculation regarding the future of coach Antonio Conte and star Romelu Lukaku, who is reportedly wanted by Chelsea, Barca and Madrid.

- The Telegraph claims Manchester United are prioritising the signing of Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, who has long been tipped to join the Red Devils. Dortmund team-mate Erling Haaland is also wanted at Old Trafford, while Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been linked with a sensational return.

Tottenham are interested in re-hiring Mauricio Pochettino, reports the Independent. Pochettino is in charge of Paris Saint-Germain after replacing Thomas Tuchel in January but he was unable to oversee a successful title defence this season.

Bayern Munich and Barcelona are targeting Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum on a free transfer, says Sky Sports.

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  • Real Madrid: Can returning Ancelotti restore side to rapid, rampant past? Real Madrid: Can returning Ancelotti restore side to rapid, rampant past?

    Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland? How about both? The questions are the same as Real Madrid enter each transfer window. As in 2020, though, such queries are wholly unrealistic.

    Prior to last season, which began just six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Madrid were not able to make a single first-team signing. Their most significant business was the €40million sale of Achraf Hakimi to Inter.

    It is a similar story 12 months on, having failed to deliver silverware in front of an empty Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium. Free agent David Alaba is Los Blancos' sole recruit and even his arrival is offset by the departures of fellow centre-backs Sergio Ramos – at the end of his contract – and Raphael Varane – with a sale to Manchester United agreed for €50m.

    Financial results earlier this month reported a loss in revenue of "close to €300m" due to the pandemic. A post-tax profit of €874,000 for 2020-21 was achieved due to "intense spending saving measures in all areas", read a statement, which added: "With regard to the economic situation, current forecasts indicate that the recovery from the pre-pandemic situation will not be immediate. In this context, the club will continue in the effort so far to contain spending."

    One of the world's grandest clubs are doing things on the cheap. A change of coach was only initiated by Zinedine Zidane, whose replacement, Carlo Ancelotti, has been plucked from mid-table Everton – although Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri claimed this week he was offered the position.

    Ancelotti has been here before, of course, having led Madrid to 'La Decima' in 2013-14 after a 12-year wait. How he raises the club again without this time breaking the world transfer record two months into the role is another question – one Stats Perform attempts to answer with the aid of Opta data.

    Return of rapid Real?

    Just as Ancelotti is returning to Madrid, so too is Gareth Bale. It was he who Madrid splashed out €100m on to inspire Ancelotti's first side to Champions League glory. Now he could be handed a starring role again.

    The winger appeared to have no future under Zidane but will surely be the chief beneficiary if Ancelotti returns the team to the attacking approach he employed previously at the Santiago Bernabeu. Across his two seasons at the helm, Madrid scored 222 LaLiga goals – 22 more than across the past three campaigns combined now.

    That would mean a significant shift, though. Zidane's men have not just scored fewer goals, they have moved at a slower pace. Madrid averaged 4.7 passes and 12.7 seconds per sequence in the league in 2020-21, with 662 open-play sequences of 10 passes or more. In 2013-14, with Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria leading a rapid forward line, Madrid's sequences typically lasted only 3.9 passes and 10.3 seconds, with just 475 10-plus pass sequences. Those numbers only marginally increased in Ancelotti's second season.

    This change in style is also evidenced by Madrid's direct speed, having moved 1.93 metres upfield per second in 2013-14 but just 1.41 in an average sequence last term. Making the most of the attributes of Bale, Ronaldo and Di Maria, that Madrid team had 122 direct attacks but only 112 build-up attacks – figures that have altered drastically in opposite directions to 87 and 165 respectively.

    The football under Ancelotti was undoubtedly exciting and appeals again. Even as he was sacked in 2015, president Florentino Perez said: "The affection that the players and the fans have for Carlo is the same as the affection I myself have for him." Implementing that system again may not be entirely straightforward, though.

    Ancelotti arrived in 2013 only a year removed from the 121-goal 2011-12 LaLiga campaign – the most Madrid have ever scored in a season. The Italian gave his superstars the freedom to play but did not need to reconfigure their approach. That tallies with the rest of a glittering career to date, which has chiefly seen him credited with man-managing big names rather than introducing the sort of tactical tweaks that might almost double a team's attacking output.

    If that is Ancelotti's desire, though, between Bale, Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard, Madrid should at least still have the players to tear through teams at pace. Indeed, getting Hazard fit and firing two years and four goals into his LaLiga career will be as crucial as rehabilitating Bale. The former Chelsea forward may put the famed 'diva whisperer' to the test, but Madrid cannot afford to have a €100m man not contributing.

    Age is against Ancelotti

    Madrid's play without the ball has also changed in the time Ancelotti has been away, and getting them to perform in this regard as they did during his first stint will be more difficult still. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro – Madrid's long-standing midfield trio – were on board when Ancelotti left the club six years ago. Modric will be 36 in September. Class and experience are on their side, but the energy of youth is not.

    With Di Maria occupying a key role in the 4-2-3-1 formation and Modric finding his feet in Spain, Madrid pressed relentlessly in 2013-14. Opponents were allowed only 9.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) amid Los Blancos' 499 pressed sequences. As a result, Madrid's attacks started 42.3 metres upfield on average, boosted by their 179 high turnovers, of which 45 led to shots and nine to goals.

    Even Ancelotti could not maintain these standards the following year, as Di Maria departed for the Premier League while a thigh injury restricted Modric to 16 games. Madrid regressed in every category.

    In 2021, it is not that Madrid do not press, it is that they do not do so with the same intensity. There were 430 pressed sequences last term and still an impressive 178 high turnovers, but opponents were allowed 11.3 PPDA, with Madrid unable to harry at a comparable rate. It is unlikely that statistic improves as Kroos also moves through his thirties and yet more minutes are pumped into the legs of one of modern football's great midfields. The emergence of Federico Valverde – young and versatile – helps, but Ancelotti may well face the unenviable task of dismantling a unit he helped put together.

    Alaba alters the complexion

    To this point, with a former coach returning to guide the same players, Madrid's approach appears closer to devolution than evolution or revolution. The defence at least will ensure this team has a new sheen, albeit not one that necessarily improves Ancelotti's chances of success at home or abroad.

    Alaba is a fine player with vast experience, six years younger than Ramos but with 10 Bundesliga titles and two Champions League triumphs to his name. It is a like-for-like change that makes sense, even with Ramos' emotional ties to the Bernabeu. However, asking Alaba to also replace Varane, the outgoing captain's stalwart defensive partner, feels like a tough ask.

    Rather than settle into a new club in a new country alongside a World Cup winner – "Varane, of course, I would like to play with him," Alaba said as recently as last week – Madrid's sole signing seems set to be asked to perform the role of the senior man alongside Eder Militao, who has made just 23 LaLiga starts across two seasons.

    Yet Militao crucially has attributes Alaba does not, with the converted full-back far less combative than the two departed defenders. At Bayern, in the Bundesliga last season, Alaba contested only 5.0 duels per 90 minutes – fewer than Varane (5.4), Ramos (6.4) and Militao (7.9) in LaLiga. He won just 55.4 per cent of those, another low as Varane (67.9 per cent) led the way.

    Militao could then be tasked with getting tight to opposition forwards, but Alaba might find it tougher to avoid being picked on in the air. He contested a meagre 1.2 aerial duels per 90, down on 2.3 for Varane, 4.3 for Ramos and 5.2 for Militao. As Varane won a league-leading 76.0 per cent of these duels and Ramos came out on top in 63.8 per cent, opponents faced a scrap against either centre-back. Alaba's 51.4 per cent success rate shows why he tends to avoid such encounters.

    An area of real strength for Madrid could now become a weakness. Only Sevilla (four) conceded fewer headed goals than Madrid (five) in the league last term, while Real Betis (five goals conceded) were the sole side to be tighter from set-pieces than Zidane's outfit (six). With Ramos and Varane marshalling the area, Madrid faced the fourth-fewest headed attempts (58). They are unlikely to rank as impressively again with 5ft 11in Alaba at the heart of the defence.

    Madrid are unlikely to make the most of Alaba's versatility – well stocked at left-back but now short in the middle of the back line – yet his ability on the ball, honed in different roles, should at least help to keep Ancelotti's men on the front foot. Part of a dominant Bayern team, Alaba was involved in 4.6 shot-ending sequences and 0.7 goal-ending sequences per 90, having a bigger hand in such opportunities than Ramos (3.9 and 0.4) or Varane (2.9 and 0.3).

    Being able to start attacks from the back plays into the idea Madrid should be set up to again thrill supporters under Ancelotti. Whether they can combine entertainment with results, as the 2013-14 team did so successfully, might be another matter.

  • Rumour Has It: PSG weigh up Pogba options, Spurs eye Vlahovic Rumour Has It: PSG weigh up Pogba options, Spurs eye Vlahovic

    It seems clear that Paul Pogba will not remain at Old Trafford for the long haul.

    Also clear: Paris Saint-Germain's interest in the France midfielder.

    The big question that remains to be answered is the timing of a potential move for the Manchester United man.

     

    TOP STORY – PSG WEIGH UP POGBA OPTIONS

    Paris Saint-Germain are interested in a move for Paul Pogba but are still debating when to make their bid.

    According to The Athletic, PSG have begun discussions to determine Pogba's interest in a move but have not made a formal approach to United.

    While the report says a bid is expected within the next few weeks, it remains a possibility that PSG could wait until Pogba is out of contract in 2022 and deal with the player directly.

  • Solskjaer praises Man United's ambition as Varane deal edges closer Solskjaer praises Man United's ambition as Varane deal edges closer

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer praised Manchester United's transfer business as he declared the Red Devils were in a "good position" ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

    Jadon Sancho joined on Friday from Borussia Dortmund and with a deal agreed in principle for Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, Solskjaer hailed the work done to strengthen his squad this month.

    United's manager, who signed a new contract until 2024 on Saturday, spoke after his side's 2-2 draw with Brentford in a pre-season friendly at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

    "First of all the club shows ambition with one of the most exciting young players in world football, then one of the most respected centre-backs," Solskjaer said post-match.

    "We have different ways of playing with Raphael. I can't wait to get him in, hopefully we can get that sorted as soon as.

    "Of course, [we are] very happy that we've managed to get a deal with Real Madrid. [The] medical should hopefully be OK. He's a proven winner, a player we've followed for many years."

    Varane has collected three LaLiga titles and four Champions League triumphs in a 10-year spell in Madrid, though with a year left on his contract he felt it was time to move on.

    The France international also won the World Cup in 2018 before playing in all four games at Euro 2020, where he was the only France defender to not be dribbled past.

    The signing of Varane is, as Solskjaer says, likely to go through soon and the former United forward is delighted to have done business early this transfer window.

    "We've scrambled before towards the end of the window and now I have to say we're in a good position," he added before providing an update on Marcus Rashford's potential surgery and the return of his international stars.

    "With Marcus, we'll probably make a decision in the next few days when we check him up again. What's best for him and best for the club has to be considered.

    "I haven't got a Scooby Doo how they [the returning internationals] are fitness-wise. Everyone's due in Monday for training, that means three weeks since the last game. We'll see how they are, what fitness levels they are at."

    The Red Devils have friendlies left against Preston North End and Everton before kicking off their Premier League campaign against Leeds United on August 14.

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