Javi Gracia described his sacking by Watford as "unexpected" and "abrupt" but insisted he has not fallen out with the club's owners after he was replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores.

Watford terminated Gracia's contract on Saturday after the Hornets claimed just one point from their first four games of the Premier League season.

The decision to bring the curtain down on Gracia's 20-month spell in charge came as a surprise to the Spanish manager, who reflected on having delivered a mid-table top-flight finish and a run to the FA Cup final in 2018-19.

In a statement, he said: "After the unexpected announcement about the termination of my contract after only four matches, I want to express my surprise after completing the best season in Watford's history."

Gracia took charge at Vicarage Road in January 2018 and helped the club to a 14th-placed finish, picking up three wins and a draw from his first five matches in charge.

Watford then started the 2018-19 season in fine form, winning their first four league games, and Gracia's position appeared to be secure after he guided them to the FA Cup final.

Hornets captain Troy Deeney spoke in support of Gracia before he was dismissed, and the 49-year-old paid tribute to those who backed him during his spell at the club.

"I respect this decision and I'd like to reassure the excellent relationship I have with [Watford owner] Gino Pozzo and [technical director] Filippo Giraldi, and this is not going to change despite my abrupt exit of the club," Gracia said.

"I am grateful to this club for allowing me to manage this great club in the Premier League, it has been an incredible experience, with very special moments like the FA Cup final I had the privilege to enjoy."

Ilkay Gundogan will miss Germany's Euro 2020 qualifier against Northern Ireland due to illness.

The Manchester City midfielder will return to his club rather than remaining in Belfast with the Germany squad, who take on the Euro 2020 qualifying Group C leaders on Monday.

Germany revealed Gundogan was suffering with a cold via Twitter, signing off the post with the line: "Get well soon, Ilkay!"

Gundogan came on as a second-half substitute for Germany in their 4-2 home loss to Netherlands on Friday, a result that leaves them three points behind their next opponents in the table.

His condition will be monitored by City, who travel to Carrow Road to face Norwich City in Premier League action next Saturday.

The 28-year-old has featured in all four league matches for Pep Guardiola's side this season, starting in the 2-2 home draw with Tottenham and the 3-1 away triumph at Bournemouth.

Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden has no plans to alter his personality in the wake of Pep Guardiola's suggestion that he is "shy" and shows him too much "respect".

Talented teenager Foden has continued to remain on the periphery of City's first team this season, with Guardiola having an enviable battery of attacking midfielders that includes Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and David Silva.

Last month Guardiola said Foden - who has made just three Premier League starts in his career to date and played only 10 minutes this term - needs to be more assertive and start acting like an established member of City's first-team squad given he has been around the group since making his senior debut in 2017.

However, the 19-year-old disagrees with Guardiola's assertion and promised to let his football do the talking.

"He has his own opinions and I stick by how I am," England Under-21 international Foden told reporters.

"I just know that I'm ready to play. I feel like I am. I try to show him every day in training.

"There is a bit of team-mates telling me to be patient but obviously I'm hungry and want to play now.

"I'm going to fight for it every day. I'm ready to play whenever."

Virgil van Dijk is set to remain with Liverpool until the end of 2025.

Netherlands international Van Dijk, 28, headed to Anfield from Southampton for a reported £75million in January 2018, signing a deal until 2023.

But the superstar centre-back is rumoured to be ready to recommit to the reigning European champions.

 

TOP STORY – VAN DIJK AGREES SIX-YEAR LIVERPOOL DEAL

Van Dijk has agreed a new contract with Liverpool, according to the Mirror.

The defender will earn close to £200,000 per week with his new deal, up from his current £125,000 per week wages, the report says.

It comes just a month after Van Dijk lost his title as the world's most expensive defender when Manchester United signed Harry Maguire from Leicester City for a reported £80m.

ROUND-UP

- David de Gea could be set to leave Manchester United. Coming out of contract at the end of the season, the goalkeeper has told friends he is willing to turn down a deal from the Premier League club, according to The Sun. The Express reports Serie A giants Juventus want to sign De Gea on a free transfer at the end of the season.

- Paulo Dybala almost left Juventus in the close season and the playmaker is set to be at the centre of talk again in January. Paris Saint-Germain want to beat Tottenham to the signing of Dybala when the transfer window reopens, according to the Express.

- Edwin van der Sar could be set for a return to Old Trafford. The Mirror reports the former Netherlands goalkeeper and Ajax chief executive is on Manchester United's list as they search for a director of football.

- Staying at Old Trafford, Manchester United's stars are happy Alexis Sanchez has left on loan to Inter, according to The Sun.

- After the emergence of 16-year-old forward Ansu Fati, Barcelona have set up a plan to look after the teenager. Sport reports the LaLiga champions consider Fati a first-team player and want to protect him as he gains plenty of attention.

Quique Sanchez Flores has been appointed Watford's new head coach - half an hour after Javi Gracia's sacking was confirmed.

Gracia's departure was announced on Saturday with the Hornets bottom of the Premier League table after taking one point from four games.

He led Watford to the FA Cup final and an 11th place finish in the Premier League last term but was dismissed despite captain Troy Deeney publicly backing him to continue.

Watford wasted no time in announcing the club's former coach Flores will be back in the dugout at Vicarage Road for their game against Arsenal following the international break.

Flores spent the 2015-16 season in charge of Watford, leading them to the FA Cup semi-finals and a mid-table league finish.

Since leaving the Hornets, he has had spells at Espanyol and Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua.

Flores' return is the 11th coaching appointment made by Watford since Malky Mackay's departure in June 2011.

Walter Mazzarri and Marco Silva, who is now in charge of Everton, are among their recent bosses.

Watford have sacked head coach Javi Gracia four games into the new Premier League season.

The Hornets are bottom of the table having taken a single point but last term Gracia led them to the FA Cup final, where they were thrashed 6-0 by Manchester City.

Watford's poor form dates back to the end of the 2018-19 season, which they finished with three straight defeats.

"Javi has represented Watford with great dignity and will always be deserving of our fullest respect for his achievements," said chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury.

Watford confirmed Gracia's staff will also be leaving the club, with the Hornets indicating a swift replacement will be appointed.

Club captain Troy Deeney suggested in a recent interview that Gracia should be given time to turn the team's fortunes around.

"The manager is a big boy, he knows what he's doing – it's just part and parcel of the game," Deeney told Sky Sports. "People are always going to question the manager if we've lost a few games.

"It doesn't just happen at Watford, it happens everywhere, but the high turnover of managers at Watford was four or five years ago. Everyone thinks every year we change the manager and get a new one. We are trying to settle down."

Watford have had 10 bosses since Malky Mackay's departure in June 2011, with Walter Mazzarri and Marco Silva among their recent coaches.

Former boss Quique Sanchez Flores has been linked with returning to take charge at Vicarage Road.

Jesse Lingard has been ruled out of England's Euro 2020 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Kosovo through illness.

The midfielder was not named in the squad for Saturday's visit of Bulgaria, with the Three Lions confirming soon after that he will return to Manchester United.

Lingard has endured a difficult start to the season with his club side, failing to make an impact in the Red Devils' opening three games before being dropped to the substitutes' bench for the draw with Southampton last weekend.

No timescale has been put on his return, but he will hope to be fit for United's Premier League clash against Leicester City next Saturday.

With Aymeric Laporte on the sidelines, Manchester City are looking for reinforcements.

Laporte's knee injury has left City with John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi as their only recognised centre-backs.

Could a star defender from Serie A be the answer in January?

 

TOP STORY – CITY LOOK TO SKRINIAR

Pep Guardiola wants defensive reinforcements in January and Manchester City are set to target Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar, according to CalcioMercato.

Aymeric Laporte is set for a spell on the sidelines with a knee injury, depleting City's options as they eye a third consecutive Premier League title.

Inter star Skriniar has emerged as an option for City, though the Italian side are not keen on losing the 24-year-old – who was linked to Manchester United in the off-season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sport reports Real Madrid will try to sign Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe at the end of the season. Madrid were linked with Neymar prior to the transfer deadline but now appear set to target his PSG team-mate.

- According to Aksam, Liverpool will monitor the form of Trabzonspor goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir throughout the season.

- Tuttomercatoweb says Napoli are ready to re-sign Arkadiusz Milik, Piotr Zielinski and Nikola Maksimovic, while a contract extension for Gianluigi Donnarumma is AC Milan's priority.

- Former AC Milan forward Jeremy Menez wants to return to Serie A via Sampdoria, according to CalcioMercato. The 32-year-old former France international is a free agent after leaving Mexican side Club America.

- Serie A champions Juventus are eyeing a double swoop for Tottenham stars Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, says the Daily Mail. Eriksen and Alderweireld are set to become free agents at the end of the season and Inter are also reportedly monitoring the situation.

- Valencia are determined to tie down Carlos Soler and Ferran Torres to new deals, reports SuperDeportes.

Former Barcelona and Inter star Samuel Eto'o has seemingly called time on his illustrious career in a message via social media.

Eto'o – a three-time Champions League winner among other honours – last played for Qatari outfit Qatar SC in 2018-19.

And the 38-year-old ex-Cameroon striker appears set for life after football following Friday's Instagram post.

"THE END, TOWARDS A NEW CHALLENGE," Eto'o wrote.

"Thank you all big love... adrenaline."

Eto'o enjoyed a trophy-laden career after emerging from Real Madrid's youth team in 1997 – making three appearances for the Spanish giants.

He won the Champions League twice with Barcelona and again during his time at Inter, where Eto'o was part of the club's 2009-10 treble-winning side.

In total, Eto'o celebrated 15 club titles – including three LaLiga trophies – following spells with Mallorca, Barca, Inter, Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea, Everton, Sampdoria, Antalyaspor, Konyaspor and Qatar SC.

Eto'o earned 118 caps for Cameroon as he became the country's all-time leading scorer with 56 goals, while winning two African Cup of Nations titles and gold at the 2000 Olympic Games.

England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford is at a loss in the battle to stop racist abuse, convinced "nothing changes" regardless of how many players speak out.

Rashford is one of several high-profile players across Europe to be subjected to abuse over the last month, with the forward targeted on social media after missing a penalty against Crystal Palace.

United team-mate Paul Pogba was the victim of similar abuse after he also failed to convert a spot-kick five days earlier, while monkey chants could be heard when Romelu Lukaku – who left Old Trafford for Inter in pre-season – scored from the spot against Cagliari on Sunday.

Rashford recognised the importance to speak out about such matters, but the 21-year-old feels helpless, convinced people will continue to be disrespectful as long as they are protected by anonymity and urged those in power do more to clamp down on offenders.

"It is disappointing. It seems to me that things are going backwards rather than forwards," Rashford told reporters on Friday ahead of England's match against Bulgaria.

"All around the world people are standing together and that is all we can do. We have to rely on the campaigns to deal with this. Our voice only has so much power.

"Social media is a big problem. For me, it is too easy to do what you like on the internet. Anyone can go on and write what we want.

"It is easy to figure it out. There are hundreds of thousands who use my profile and they can write what they want [in reply to tweets]. There are a lot of things that need to change.

"I've never been a big fan of social media. I try and stay away from it, but it's important for me to say my part. There's been other people too, Romelu, Jadon [Sancho] did a good speech the other day.

"I have always said, the more we speak about it, it doesn't have an impact. There are examples where people have spoken out and nothing has really changed.

"To see it spike in the last couple of months is unbelievable. We want to nip it in the bud."

It was mentioned to Rashford that Twitter plans to monitor the accounts of 50 leading black players in an attempt to tackle racism, but the United youth product is adamant it will make no difference.

"That doesn't change anything," he continued. "What I said before, the number of accounts out there is ridiculous.

"The way to control it is for everyone in the world who use these platforms only have one account. They use dummy accounts, so their identity is never seen."

Daniel James has won Manchester United's Player of the Month award for August after a stunning start to his Premier League career.

The winger, who joined for a reported £15million from Swansea City in June, has scored three Premier League goals already and shone despite United's underwhelming start.

Wales international James, who has inevitably been compared to his national team manager and former United star Ryan Giggs, earned 61 per cent of the votes.

All three candidates for the award were new signings, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka taking 36 per cent of the poll and Harry Maguire three per cent.

James is on international duty, with Wales playing Azerbaijan in a Euro 2020 qualifier on Friday.

The 21-year-old made his senior debut for his country in November 2018.

Andreas Pereira is adamant Manchester United are headed in the right direction thanks to the confidence Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has instilled in a young squad.

United won one of their four Premier League matches before the international break but midfielder Pereira insists the manager's approach is perfect for the players at his disposal.

Lowering the squad's age has been a focus for Solskjaer, with Alexis Sanchez, Ander Herrera, Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling - all 29 or over - cut loose since the end of last season.

Pereira, 23, has benefited by being handed rare league starts against Chelsea and Southampton.

The Brazil international now wants to repay the Norwegian for the praise, support and belief being given to the next generation.

"For me, it has been massive," Pereira said in the Independent.

"It's very important to me that he speaks highly about me and I just want to do my best on the pitch to show the faith back to him.

"It's very important for the young players to be given this confidence and then, if you have the chance, you have to take it with both hands."

Solskjaer's attempts to reconfigure United in the post-Jose Mourinho era have centred on injecting pace and a sense of freedom to attack the opposition.

Results to date have been mixed, although the three goals scored by new signing Daniel James provide encouragement.

"We have a very positive way of playing now. It's a style I like a lot," Pereira said.

"We're moving in the right direction and everyone has the same mindset, so I think we can achieve great goals this season."

Troy Deeney expects Watford's owners to debunk their ruthless reputation by backing under-pressure head coach Javi Gracia.

Last season's beaten FA Cup finalists sit bottom of the Premier League after four matches and are without a win in the top flight since April 20.

Gracia was linked with the Chelsea job during the close season but now faces a test of his leadership at Vicarage Road.

Reports emerging before the international break suggested time was against the Spaniard, who became the club's fifth boss in roughly three and a half years when he replaced Marco Silva in January 2018.

Captain and key striker Deeney is confident Gracia has nothing to worry about, insisting the revolving door of the past has closed.

"The manager is a big boy, he knows what he's doing - it's just part and parcel of the game," Deeney told Sky Sports.

"People are always going to question the manager if we've lost a few games.

"It doesn't just happen at Watford, it happens everywhere. But the high turnover of managers at Watford was four or five years ago. Everyone thinks every year we change the manager and get a new one.

"We are trying to settle down."

Watford finished a creditable 11th last season but have encountered problems at both ends of the pitch this term, scoring a league-low two goals while conceding eight.

"Naturally, you're always going to get people putting pressure on us," Deeney added.

"We haven't been great but we aren't trying to hide from that."

Deeney, 31, has missed three competitive games since undergoing a minor knee operation.

Watford are yet to set a specific timeframe for his return.

Giovani Lo Celso eased fears over his fitness following a pair of injury scares in Argentina's friendly against Chile in Los Angeles.

Tottenham loanee Lo Celso lasted until the 53rd minute of the bruising 0-0 draw, during which 10 yellow cards were handed out.

The 23-year-old was left beating the turf in anguish when Charles Aranguiz caught him above the foot with a crude studs-up tackle in the first half.

Referee Jair Marrufo opted against sanctioning the Chile midfielder for a second time, having booked him in the seventh minute.

The Argentine Football Association later suggested Lo Celso had suffered a groin problem, but the former Paris Saint-Germain midfielder provided a positive update after the match.

"It was only a blow, nothing to worry about," he said.

Lo Celso almost made the breakthrough for Argentina when he volleyed marginally wide of Claudio Bravo's goal shortly before the interval.

Inter forward Lautaro Martinez also threatened regularly but the sides could not be separated.

"We deserved a bit more. We had a lot of chances to score but it wasn't to be," Lo Celso added.

"We had a good game, generally speaking. The first half was where we had the most chances. We created some good opportunities with a lot of people in attack.

"We were up against a very tough opponent and we were up to their level."

Lionel Scaloni selected a youthful squad for the Albiceleste's first outing since the Copa America and felt the less-experienced players adapted well to the international arena.

"We wanted to give the younger players minutes," the Argentina boss said.

"With the game in progress, they usually enter much calmer. That was the idea. It makes me happy that the new players didn't notice the weight of the shirt.

"We always want to win but the important thing was the performance, which was good at times."

Lionel Messi will get to decide his Barcelona future, regardless of when the star is contracted until.

Messi, 32, re-signed with the LaLiga champions two years ago, extending his contract until 2021.

But such extensions may not matter when it comes to arguably the world's best player.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI CAN LEAVE BARCELONA AT THE END OF ANY SEASON

Messi can choose to leave Barcelona at the conclusion of any campaign regardless of his contract, according to El Pais.

The Argentina superstar made his debut for the club in late 2004, and his future is seemingly in his own hands.

It remains to be seen when, or if, Messi decides to depart Camp Nou.

ROUND-UP

- Philippe Coutinho eventually left Barcelona for Bayern Munich on loan, but it could have been different for the playmaker. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola rejected the chance to sign the 27-year-old, according to Marca.

- Left out of Juventus' Champions League squad, Mario Mandzukic is eyeing a January exit, according to Calciomercato.com. The striker was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United during the transfer window.

- Staying in Turin, Juventus could have signed Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng in the close season. Calciomercato.com reports Maurizio Sarri rejected a move for the centre-back.

- Ousmane Dembele was reportedly wanted by Paris Saint-Germain while they were in talks with Barcelona over a move for Neymar. But the attacker refused to leave because he is at his dream club at Barcelona, according to L'Equipe.

- Former Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio is reportedly in talks with Monaco, but the 55-time Italy international turned down a move to Scottish giants Rangers, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Left out of the England squad, Manchester City defender Kyle Walker is worried he has no international future under Gareth Southgate, the Daily Star reports.

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