Rumour Has It: Neymar closer to Barcelona return as PSG eye Dembele

By Sports Desk May 25, 2020

Neymar's return to Barcelona could be getting a little closer.

The Paris Saint-Germain star continues to be linked with a return to Camp Nou, where he left in 2017 for a world-record €222million.

While there is uncertainty over whether Barcelona can get a deal done, it seems it may be getting closer.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR CLOSER TO BARCELONA RETURN AS PSG EYE DEMBELE

Paris Saint-Germain remain very interested in signing Ousmane Dembele and it could help Neymar return to Barcelona, according to Sport.

France international Dembele has struggled with injuries since joining Barca from Borussia Dortmund in 2017, but the former Rennes attacker could be set for a return to his homeland.

However, Marca reports Neymar is not a priority for Barcelona with their focus on Inter star Lautaro Martinez and Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic.

Staying at Barcelona and Sport says the club are following Hertha Berlin's 18-year-old midfielder Lazar Samardzic.

 

ROUND-UP

- Timo Werner starred again for RB Leipzig on Sunday with a hat-trick against Mainz in the Bundesliga. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held a virtual meeting with the forward in recent weeks, according to journalist Raphael Honigstein.

- With Bayern Munich deciding not to buy Philippe Coutinho, the Barcelona attacker's future remains unclear. Le 10 Sport reports Arsenal want to start talks with the playmaker's agent, with head coach Mikel Arteta dreaming of signing the Brazil international.

- Toni Kroos looks set to finish his career at Real Madrid. AS reports the 30-year-old midfielder has no interest in leaving Madrid, where he is contracted until 2023, amid links to MLS and the Chinese Super League.

- Odion Ighalo's Manchester United career may be over already. According to the Daily Mail, Shanghai Shenhua have rejected the Premier League club's requests to keep the forward – who has scored four goals in eight games for United – on loan for another three months.

- Could Raul Jimenez leave Wolves for Juventus? Todofichajes reports Juve offered Adrien Rabiot plus €30m (£26.7m) for the star forward.

- Less than a year after leaving Newcastle United, Rafael Benitez is being linked with a return. Benitez, now coach of Dalian Professional in China, wants to return to the club if their proposed takeover is resolved, and sign Manchester City defender John Stones and Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley.

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    Manchester United and Chelsea are set to do battle for the signing of West Ham star Declan Rice.

    Rice, 22, is being touted for a move in the close season, with Chelsea having reportedly led the race for the midfielder's signature.

    But United could be ready to fight for the England international.

     

    TOP STORY – MAN UTD TO CHALLENGE CHELSEA FOR RICE

    Manchester United are prepared to challenge Chelsea to sign Rice ahead of 2021-22, according to ESPN.

    The report says United are eyeing a forward, centre-back and defensive midfielder as priorities at the end of the season.

    Rice is contracted at West Ham, where he arrived as a youth player from Chelsea in 2014, until 2024.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - Eric Garcia looks set to finish the season with Manchester City. Marca reports Barcelona cannot afford a transfer fee for the defender and the delay of the LaLiga club's presidential elections, now scheduled for March 7, mean Garcia will have to wait for a move.

    - Also at Barcelona and backup goalkeeper Neto has asked for a January move, according to Sport. It comes as he struggles for game time behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen and amid links to Arsenal.

    - Eder Militao is facing an uncertain future at Real Madrid. Goal reports Bayern Munich have joined the list of clubs who have asked about the defender, with Juventus, Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund also reportedly interested in Militao, who has played just three times this season.

    - Milan want Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori. The Daily Mail reports the Serie A leaders have discussed a loan with the option to make the move permanent for €30.4million (£27m) at season's end.

  • Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool Man Utd have stopped scoring against the big sides – that must change at Liverpool

    Manchester United's record against the so-called 'big six' of the Premier League this season reads zero wins, two defeats and two draws.

    They have conceded seven goals, six of them at home to Tottenham, and scored just once – a Bruno Fernandes penalty two minutes into that 6-1 hammering in October.

    Fernandes scored their previous goal in these encounters from the spot, too, in a 1-1 draw at Spurs last June. In fact, you have to go back to March 2020 and their 2-0 win at home to Manchester City, the last Old Trafford game played in front of a crowd, for the previous occasion that they scored a goal against a big-six team that wasn't a penalty.

    They might be top of the league heading into Sunday's showdown with Liverpool but, for a manager that made an early habit of extracting big performances against the best sides, that stat should be of serious concern to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

     

    BIG ZERO SIX

    Since the end of the 2019-20 shutdown, United have played seven games against the big six and won none of them, if you include domestic cup losses to Chelsea and City.

    In league football alone, they have drawn against Tottenham, Chelsea and City and lost to Spurs and Arsenal, with just two Fernandes penalties to show for it. All their previous three such games were at home and they have not scored in any of them.

    In their first 14 league games against these sides under Solskjaer, United won six times and lost only four, scoring 16 goals and conceding 13 – a decent record given their real problems with consistency.

    The strange thing is United's winless run against the best has coincided with a general upturn in form since the previous season restarted last June. Taking only results in that time into account, United have played 26, won 17, lost just three, scored 56 goals and conceded 30. That's the best record of any side in the league and seven points better than Liverpool.

    In fact, narrow that down to results against teams in the top half of the table in the same time frame, and United have lost the fewest games (two) of any side, with 21 points taken from 13 games, just three behind Jurgen Klopp's side.

    So, why the recent drop-off against the very best?

    Solskjaer's most dependable attacking weapons have been Fernandes, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, all three of whom will almost certainly start at Liverpool, barring injury.

    They were all involved in their last big-six contest in the league, a 0-0 draw at home to City in December. Rashford managed only one shot all game and created no chances for anyone else; Martial, a late substitute, created one chance but had no shots himself. Fernandes, ever the fulcrum of United's attack, had four shots and created two chances.

    The previous game was a staid goalless draw with Chelsea that made the derby look positively thrill-a-minute. That day, with Martial banned, Rashford was more involved, with three attempts at goal and two chances created; he was outdone by Fernandes (three shots, four chances created).

    They don't exactly look like imperious figures, but they actually fall in line with their per-90-minute numbers for this season. On average, Rashford attempts 2.7 shots per game and creates 1.3 chances; Martial has 2.9 shots and creates 1.2 chances; Fernandes musters 3.6 shots and creates 3.4 chances.

    Put succinctly, based on this season's performances, Fernandes should be expected to create between three and four goalscoring opportunities in every league game he starts for United. In other words, he was bang on his average against City and Chelsea. Rashford's numbers are similarly close to the mean.

    United's best attackers, then, are keeping their performance levels consistent against the big six. They're just meeting greater resistance. That becomes clearer looking at expected goals.

    In their most recent three league games against these sides, United have had xG of 0.6 against City, 0.7 against Chelsea and a lowly 0.4 in a 1-0 loss to Arsenal. In those same fixtures in 2019-20, those figures were 1.6 (in a 2-0 win against City), 2.2 (in a 4-0 win over Chelsea) and 0.9 (in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal). Interestingly, though, Chelsea and Arsenal had higher xG numbers in those games last season, even though they suffered worse results, and City's only increased this term by 0.7.

    This reflects a general balancing out in these matches. They are, for the most part, more attritional and less unpredictable affairs settled by fine margins – exactly the sort of contest you'd expect between true heavyweights. United are not significantly under-performing each time; they're just not quite tilting the odds in their favour.

    How, then, might they change that against Liverpool? There is one simple way.

    SLAB EXPERIMENT

    United have one particular weakness, regardless of opposition: set-pieces. This season, they have conceded 11 goals from set-plays; only Wolves (12), Brighton and Hove Albion (14) and Leeds United (16) have a worse record. They have shipped four goals from corners, the same number as Liverpool, but the champions have only conceded eight times from dead-ball situations overall.

    At the other end, United have scored 10 goals from set-pieces, a tally bettered by just four teams: Aston Villa and Southampton (11), and Chelsea and Liverpool (12). Only Chelsea (34) have created more dead-ball chances than United (31).

    There is an argument to say they should have more set-piece goals than anyone else. It's an argument that centres around their captain – the man who might be the very thing United need to get back to scoring against, and winning against, big-six opposition.

    Since the start of last season, Harry Maguire has won 73 per cent of his aerial duels in the Premier League. That's the best rate of anyone who has contested at least 300 in that time. In fact, he has lost only 98 of the 341 he has been involved in, which is the lowest number of losses across the same period within that elite group.

    However, in an attacking sense, the world's most expensive defender doesn't seem to have his head on straight. Since the start of 2019-20, he has attempted 27 headed shots, hit the target with just nine of them, and scored with two. Of players with at least 20 headed shots in that time, only four have hit the target less often.

    On Sunday, Maguire will face a Liverpool side without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and possibly Joel Matip. He will rarely have a better chance of stealing a march at set-plays and, if he does, he could well end United's wait for a goal – and a win – against the best. Sometimes, those fine margins are the width of a forehead.

  • Fernandes hits back at Klopp over penalty complaints Fernandes hits back at Klopp over penalty complaints

    Bruno Fernandes hit back at Jurgen Klopp after the Liverpool manager complained about the number of penalties awarded to Manchester United.

    Klopp was unhappy his side were not given a penalty during a loss to Southampton earlier this month and the German pointed to the number of spot-kicks United had been awarded.

    Since the start of last season, United have won 20 penalties in the Premier League compared to Liverpool's 10.

    Fernandes, who has scored five penalties in the Premier League this season, insisted he was unfazed, also suggesting Klopp was trying to put pressure on referees ahead of United's trip to Anfield on Sunday.

    "You always see what people say, but I really don't care. I'm not focused on what they're saying. We have really quick players up front," he said.

    "Anthony Martial is one of the best players one against one in the box, Marcus Rashford is another one who is quick and has quick feet, who can take the ball away from the defender at any moment.

    "It's normal that sometimes, because of that, they will be tripped and will fall and they gain penalties.

    "People can talk and say what they want, but for me and the team, the main point is continuing to do the right things and when we get a penalty, just scoring.

    "I played in Portugal and when you play for Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto are always talking about that kind of stuff – sometimes to put pressure on the referee."

    United visit champions Liverpool with a surprise three-point lead atop the table.

    Liverpool claimed their first top-flight title since 1990 last year, moving onto 19 in total – one shy of United's record.

    Fernandes said the players were aware how much such records meant to supporters.

    "You don't want your rivals at the same level as you, or with the same amount of trophies as you," he said.

    "So it's clear for everyone here at the club and in the dressing room, everyone knows what it means for the supporters.

    "It would be a lot more fun with 21 titles and Liverpool still on 19, of course."

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