Rumour Has It: Man Utd, Chelsea & Liverpool fighting for Dortmund star Sancho

By Sports Desk December 08, 2019

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  • Ramos can play until he's 40, says ex-Real Madrid team-mate Van der Vaart Ramos can play until he's 40, says ex-Real Madrid team-mate Van der Vaart

    Sergio Ramos is the best defender in the world and can keep on playing until he is 40, according to former Real Madrid team-mate Rafael van der Vaart. 

    Ramos was very influential in helping Madrid end Barcelona's run of success in LaLiga, scoring 11 goals as Zinedine Zidane's squad were crowned champions for the first time since 2017. 

    The Spaniard was signed from Sevilla as a teenager in 2005 and was still young when he was joined at the club by Van der Vaart, who stayed at the Santiago Bernabeu for two seasons before joining Tottenham in 2010. 

    However, having watched on as his old club secured the title once again, the Dutchman is impressed by how Ramos has matured and, considering his physical condition, sees no reason why the 34-year-old should be thinking of retiring anytime soon. 

    "For me, he is the best defender in the world," Van der Vaart told Stats Perform News as part of the UEFA Europa League Trophy Tour. 

    "When I was at Real Madrid, he was 21 or 22 and bursting with energy. He wanted to be everywhere. Free kicks, corner kicks, everywhere. 

    "Now it is different, he has so much focus now. A focus on winning and he uses all his talents for that purpose. He's aware of his skills, strength and conditioning and that helped him being so important for his team in winning already so many titles. His body is unbelievable, he is a machine. 

    "When I was watching a game the other day, I thought, 'how old is he? 34?' I believe he can still be playing for another six years, I've so much respect for him."

    With LaLiga won, Madrid will now focus on potential European success as they return to Champions League action. 

    They need to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit in their last-16 tie with Manchester City if they are to progress, with the remaining knockout rounds to be staged in Portugal, though Ramos will miss the match against Pep Guardiola's team at the Etihad Stadium due to suspension. 

    However, Madrid have been outstanding since the season restarted in Spain midway through June, and Van der Vaart expects a "really interesting" return clash with City, who finished second in the Premier League. 

    "Real Madrid have been very, very good after the coronavirus break," he said. "They have all been very focused [on the games]. Including a 10-game winning streak. 

    "Karim Benzema and Ramos have been a key part of the team for me, and Zidane for bringing calmness to the team. 

    "However, I watched Manchester City against Arsenal playing the semi-final of the FA Cup, as well as other games. They have so much individual talent, so they are always dangerous, for any team, including the magnificent Real Madrid. That's what we've seen in the first leg, so it is going to be a really interesting game." 

    Van der Vaart was speaking as part of a Europa League Trophy Tour that has been collecting football boots from fans for Syrian refugees based in Jordan, a cause the former Netherlands international is passionate about. 

    "It's great, I remember how incredibly happy I was as a little boy with my football boots. I even put my first pair on to bed and I dreamed of playing football. I hope that all children in the world may experience that kind of childlike joy. I'm so proud that I can help a little bit," Van der Vaart said. 

    "We are collecting boots, which hopefully gives a bit more hope and fun for all children. So, I'm proud that I can help a little bit and be a part of it. 

    "It's really important [to be able to go out and play]. Now there are so many things, but when I was little you would just go on the street and play. 

    "In lockdown it was difficult, of course. You want to meet with friends, you want to go out and play games, but when I started playing it was just me and the ball."

  • Ronaldo, Dybala, Immobile trident leads Opta's Serie A 'Team of the Season' Ronaldo, Dybala, Immobile trident leads Opta's Serie A 'Team of the Season'

    There was a predictable champion at the end of the 2019-20 Serie A campaign as Juventus clinched a ninth successive Scudetto, and their success is reflected in Opta's Team of the Season. 

    Although Juve finished 2019-20 just a point ahead of second-placed Inter, they had wrapped up the title with two games to go – beating Sampdoria 2-0 on July 26.

    Cristiano Ronaldo was unsurprisingly key, finishing as his team's top scorer, but for much of the season there were a few sides that looked like they might push Juve all the way.

    Inter, Atalanta and Lazio all had their moments where they were able to dream and they each had individuals who impressed.

    Following the conclusion on the campaign on Sunday, we teamed up with Opta to outline the Serie A Team of the Season.

    OPTA'S SERIE A TEAM OF THE SEASON

    GK: Wojciech Szczesny, Juventus

    Poland international Szczesny has come a long way since struggling in the latter part of his Arsenal career. He was once again a dependable option between the posts, remaining first choice despite the return of Gianluigi Buffon. He ended the season with a 74.4 per cent save success rate, the best of the Serie A goalkeepers to have played 20 or more times.

    RB: Juan Cuadrado, Juventus

    Hardly the most convincing of defenders, granted, but Cuadrado boasts the versatility to play in a few roles down the right flank and he became an important figure for Maurizio Sarri – his 28 Serie A starts is just one fewer than he managed in the previous two seasons combined. The Colombian was certainly influential, too, as he was involved in more open-play sequences that ended with a shot made by someone else (132) than any other player this term. He also chipped in with two goals and five assists.

    CB: Stefan de Vrij, Inter

    No team conceded fewer goals in Serie A this season than an Inter side that Antonio Conte ensured was well-drilled. Netherlands centre-back De Vrij played a major role in that as he featured 34 times – though his efforts were not notable just for his defensive effectiveness. The former Feyenoord man scored three goals and also set up another three, making him the most productive centre-back in the league in this regard.

    CB: Francesco Acerbi, Lazio

    After Inter, the next-best defensive unit in Serie A was Lazio, who let in 42 (six more than Conte's men). Acerbi missed just two games all season and his form at the start of the season also saw him make three starts for Italy. The 32-year-old has proven himself to be one of Serie A's best stoppers, as evidenced by the fact he was dribbled past just six times this term. No other outfield player with more than 35 appearances did better than that.

    LB: Theo Hernandez, Milan

    Former France youth international Hernandez has rediscovered the early promise he showed during a fine loan spell at Deportivo Alaves in 2016-17. While question marks remain over his defensive abilities, the Atletico Madrid youth product has excited with his attacking tendencies in 2019-20. No defender completed more dribbles (57) than him, while he also had a hand in nine goals (six goals, three assists).

    CM: Luis Alberto, Lazio

    Since leaving Liverpool for Rome in 2016, Luis Alberto has arguably developed into one of the world's best creative midfielders. The Spain international sees passes few others can and he has put that to particularly good use in 2019-20, with his 106 chances created being a Serie A high. Similarly, his 15 assists was second only to Alejandro Gomez (16), as he helped Simone Inzaghi's men mount a title challenge. Often linked with a return home to Sevilla, Lazio will surely be doing everything they can to keep Luis Alberto at Stadio Olimpico.

    CM: Fabian Ruiz, Napoli

    The other half of a Seville-centric midfield, Real Betis product Fabian probably hasn't impressed quite as much as he did in 2018-19, but he has nevertheless continued to show plenty of promise. Still only 24, Fabian attempted the most passes (2,331) of any player in the league this season, while he had a hand in nine goals, the same amount as in the previous campaign.

    AM: Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta

    Like a fine wine, 'Papu' Gomez just seems to get better with age. Now 32, the Argentinian has enjoyed a fantastic season for the often-exhilarating Atalanta. He scored seven goals for a second successive season, but his haul of 16 assists is five more than 2018-19. That figure is the highest since Opta records began in 2004-05.

    FWD: Paulo Dybala, Juventus

    The Sarri-Juventus combination continues to puzzle many, but if there's one thing he has got right, it's helping Dybala get back to something resembling his best. He had been strongly linked with a move away last year, but Dybala was involved in 17 Serie A goals this term (11 goals, six assists) and managed to coexist with Ronaldo more effectively. Of his 11 strikes, eight (73 per cent) were the opening goals of matches, the biggest quantity among players with 10 or more.

    FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

    Considering there being murmurs of discontent between himself and Sarri, and suggestions the coach hasn't been able to get the best out of the Portugal great, Ronaldo's had a pretty effective year. With 31 league goals, it's been his best goal-scoring campaign domestically since getting 35 with Real Madrid in 2015-16, while his goals have secured 24 points, more than any other player.

    FWD: Ciro Immobile, Lazio

    What a season Immobile has had. With 36 league goals, the Italy international equalled Gonzalo Higuain's record for a single campaign, while that haul also won him the coveted European Golden Shoe. On top of that, his record of nine assists was bettered by only Gomez, Luis Alberto and Domenico Berardi. If he can keep it up, Lazio will surely fancy themselves of challenging Juve again next term.

  • Karim Benzema from strike ace to...strike ace? Real Madrid star fancies a crack at MMA Karim Benzema from strike ace to...strike ace? Real Madrid star fancies a crack at MMA

    Real Madrid star Karim Benzema had a simple answer when asked if he fancies a crack at mixed martial arts after his football career comes to an end: "No problem for me, I'm up for it!"

    Benzema, 32, enjoyed a brilliant campaign for Madrid, scoring 21 goals and providing eight assists as Los Blancos beat Barcelona to the LaLiga title.

    Such form suggests Benzema still has plenty of legs left in football yet, even though he may be approaching the twilight years of his career.

    But there are other challenges that appeal to the French striker, including it seems having a go at the fight game.

    Benzema took questions from several friends for a YouTube video, one of which came from French kickboxer Fouad Ezbiri, who he has trained with in the past.

    Ezbiri asked if Benzema - a fan of fight sports - ever had plans to step in the ring at least once.

    "Well Fouad my broski, in any case I hope you're doing good, and it's true that I love fighting sports," Benzema said. 

    "I love training, as you say we already trained, after the soccer why not train with you for six months and if you think I can be ready for a fight, no problem for me, I'm up for it!"

    Benzema also responded to a separate question about how much longer he feels he has left in football.

    "I'm working a lot. I pay attention to everything I do, I take care of myself and I'm trying to get the best out of me as possible," Benzema added. 

    "I know this is not the beginning of my career but in any case, for me, age does not mean anything and yeah we're going to do everything."

    Benzema also revealed three major sporting influences of his, saying: "It depends there are many people who have inspired me but we'll take soccer for example. It's Ronaldo, the Brazilian, so he's the one who made me love football, simply. It's thanks to what he did but everyone knows it. 

    "Then athletic, although I'm not a big fan of basketball, but I would say Michael Jordan for what he did, what he has been with the Chicago Bulls. And then another athlete I would say Mike Tyson, there you go Mike Tyson, because it's the power."

    Real Madrid team-mate James Rodriguez pondered whether Benzema prefers scoring or assisting a team-mate.

    "I'll answer you sincerely. Making assists or scoring goals are two different things but not that different and I like to do both," he said. 

    "To choose, I choose to score. On the other hand if my partner is good and sure to score I'll pass him the ball and offer him the goal. So, I choose both my brother."

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