Former Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said he would prefer working in Australia rather than the Premier League.

Valverde was sacked by Barca in January, despite leading the Spanish giants to back-to-back LaLiga titles and Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana success.

Contemplating his next move as Valverde enjoys a break from football, a shock A-League gig is high on the 56-year-old's list.

"People ask me sometimes 'How about the Premier League?' and I say 'Well actually I'd like to go to Australia'," Valverde said.

"A career in football does not last forever and sometimes you think you have to take the opportunity to live in strange places."

Valverde referenced former Barca captain Andres Iniesta, who left Camp Nou for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018.

"I applauded Andres when he told me he's going to Japan," added Valverde. I thought 'Wow, he gets to understand a different culture and different people', and I am also very interested in Japan.

"You can take great photos in Japan. There are many places I'd like to go to. We'll see what I end up doing, I haven't been out of work for very long so I don't have to decide anything yet, I haven't got a very clear idea at the moment.

"It's possible I'd go somewhere abroad. The truth is I like to do strange things so I wouldn't rule it out."

Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler is currently in charge of A-League outfit Brisbane Roar, while former Reds and Bayern Munich star Markus Babbel was working in Australia until he was sacked by Western Sydney Wanderers last month.

Erling Haaland already had his heart set on a move to Borussia Dortmund by the time Manchester United made a move for his services.

Dortmund signed Haaland after agreeing to meet his €22.5million release clause at Salzburg in late December, and the 19-year-old has made a flying start to life in Germany, with eight goals in five appearances.

A host of leading European clubs were linked to the striker, including United – led by his former Molde coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – but Haaland told Viasport his mind was made up by the time their interest was declared.

"Ole Gunnar has been very important for me in getting to where I am today," he said.

"But we concluded that Dortmund was the best option for me. That was what I felt best about and therefore it became Dortmund."

Indeed, Dortmund as a next stop in his career was put forward by Haaland himself as his father – former Leeds United and Manchester City utility man Alf-Inge Haaland – surveyed other options.

"The thing is, when the season was over, my father and I started talking

"At that point he didn’t mention Dortmund. Then I asked him, 'What about this club? That would have been nice'. Then he said, 'We'll see'.

"Suddenly it became an option and then that was what I felt all along.

"The process was pretty simple on my end. I really just played football and wasn't very involved until the first half of the season was over.

"So, I didn't have that much to do with it, to be honest. The process was to find the best possible club for me."

Haaland made light of suggestions his move to Dortmund was primarily motivated by money and praised agent Mino Raiola for his role in making the transfer happen.

"It's kind of comical if I were to get that label [being greedy]," he said.

"All the people close to me know that's not the kind of person I am. It's really been kind of comical."

On Raiola, Haaland added: "He's the best in the world at what he does. As simple as that.

"He's the best agent. He gets a lot of negativity and that's probably because he's doing such a great job for those he's working for

"He has helped a lot and he's a good guy to have around."

Bobby Madley will return to refereeing professional football in England next season, two years after the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) sacked him for sending a video in which he mocked a disabled person.

Madley left his role in August 2018, with a PGMOL statement at the time saying he had "decided to relocate due to a change in personal circumstances".

The 34-year-old went on to explain in a blog post on New Year's Eve last year that his dismissal related to a Snapchat video he sent to a friend that was subsequently passed to his employers.

He captioned a clip of a person with a walking impairment: "F*** me, I have a chance of winning the parents race this year" – something he later conceded was a "badly misjudged... private joke".

Madley moved to Norway after his dismissal and continued refereeing under the auspices of the Norwegian Football Federation.

In a blog post entitled "A New Chapter", the 34-year-old explained he would resume work in English Football at League One and League Two level – the third and fourth tiers of the country's professional structure.

"I've been away from the Premier League for what will be two years come the new season so a return to that level was never a possibility," he wrote.

"With the introduction of VAR and the many hours of training missed it would not have been reasonable to expect that. 

"I was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to start next season as a National List Referee. This group of referees officiate in League One and League Two.

"Like any referee I have the desire to perform at my best and to achieve the best I can.

"I know how hard that road is to referee at the top but I have the desire and passion to work hard to achieve my potential whatever that may be.

"I still have dreams that I thought were dead but for me they are now very much alive."

For the remainder of this season, Madley will officiate at games lower down the pyramid to reintegrate into the English game. He has also agreed to attend a Football Association discrimination workshop. 

Chelsea have committed €44million to the signing of Hakim Ziyech, who has become one of the most admired talents in European football over the past two seasons at Ajax.

The impending transfer was announced on Thursday but remains subject to Morocco international Ziyech agreeing personal terms at Stamford Bridge.

The 26-year-old was one of the best players on the pitch during a barnstorming 4-4 draw in November's Champions League clash between the sides.

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been credited with an own goal but it was Ziyech's sensational bending free-kick from the right touchline that did the damage as the visitors opened up a 3-1 half-time lead.

Ziyech, who predominantly operates from the right but can play behind a striker, is now set to feature more regularly at the Bridge and we used Opta data to examine his ability.


THE EREDIVISIE'S MASTER CREATOR

Ziyech has been one of the Eredivisie's top performers since breaking into the first team at Heerenveen in 2012 having risen through the club's youth teams.

After a two-year stop at Twente, Ziyech moved to Ajax in August 2016 where his performances domestically and in Europe have seen his star continue to rise.

Since his switch to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, only four players can boast a higher goals return than his 38 while his sensational tally of 51  Eredivisie assists is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest on the list.

Indeed, his combined 89 goal involvements is in the best in the league during this time, seven more than Berghuis, while Bryan Linssen (who has the most goals with 52 ) is way behind with 66 .

To really emphasise Ziyech's attacking brilliance, his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than second-place Berghuis.


MIXING IT WITH MESSI AND MBAPPE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ajax were the great entertainers of the of the 2018-19 Champions League and only a last-gasp goal from Tottenham's Lucas Moura denied Erik ten Hag's men a place in the final.

Ziyech was typically influential in that run to the last four and since August 2018 he has provided seven assists in Europe's premier competition (excluding qualifiers).

That is as many as team-mate Dusan Tadic and just one fewer than the best of eight achieved by Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez - and one more than Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

His five goals are 13 fewer than the sensational 18 scored by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the same time, with Messi registering 14 .

Messi tops the list of goal involvements at 20 , with Lewandowski (18) , Mbappe (17) , Raheem Sterling (14) , Tadic and Mohamed Salah (both 13) above Ziyech's combined goals and assists tally of 12 .

In terms of chances created, Ziyech scores highly as well. His 39 is the same as Christian Eriksen and beaten only by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos (51) , Tadic (47) and Messi (41) .


THE STATS

- Since the 2012-13 season, Ziyech has made 217 Eredivisie appearances, scored 79 goals and contributed 87 assists.

- Ziyech has at least 10 assists in each of his previous six Eredivisie seasons, no player has managed to do so in more than two campaigns in the same period.

- No players has more assists (51) , shots (528) , created chances (421) , completed dribbles (288) or recoveries (752) than Ziyech in the Eredivisie since he joined Ajax.

- Over the past two seasons, only Mohamed Salah (79) and Messi (77) have taken more Champions League shots than Ziyech ( 75 same as Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers has thrown his support behind James Maddison and defended the midfielder's lifestyle choices.

Maddison was pictured partying in Dubai during the Premier League mid-season break, the period which has been devised to allow players a breather from a demanding campaign.

Yet manager Rodgers stressed there are no questions about Maddison's professionalism and claimed he had become a popular target for critics.

The Foxes star is in his second season with Leicester and has scored six goals in 24 Premier League games this term, leading to suggestions he could earn a Euro 2020 call with England.

According to Rodgers, the 23-year-old has been portrayed in an unjust light, but he might just have to get used to such treatment.

"It's unfortunate. We're supposedly in this great world now where everyone cares, this wonderful atmosphere where everyone wants to look after you," Rodgers said.

"It's rubbish because the first thing people do is try and stitch you up.

"It's contradictory, it's unbelievable. So there's something framed around him which, okay, he'll have to live with, but that's someone else's narrative.

"This is a 23-year-old boy who is single, he's been given a week free. We try to educate them in many ways, but this is something I'm not too bothered about."

Clubs have typically given players free rein during the break, trusting their judgement, and Rodgers has only positive things to say of Maddison's contributions for Leicester this season.

He has been such an impressive performer that Maddison has been linked with several rival clubs, including Manchester United.

"I can only judge him on my time here, nearly a year now," said Rodgers. "He's been absolutely brilliant for me. And outside of the pitch, he's been an absolute joy."

Leicester, who sit third in the Premier League, return to action when they face Wolves on Friday.

Rodgers will expect Maddison to show no negative effects from his time out of the country, outlining what he requires from his players, even when away from the club.

The former Celtic and Liverpool boss said: "There's two different mindsets, a social mindset and a professional mindset.

"The top ones, professionally, have the mentality to do it every single day and look after themselves and then produce."

Jadon Sancho is a player in demand.

The former Manchester City youth player is a man in demand due to exploits with Borussia Dortmund.

The Premier League's elite are circling…

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL WANT SANCHO AMID UNITED LINKS

Liverpool want to sign Borussia Dortmund star and Manchester United target Jadon Sancho, according to the Daily Mail.

United are reportedly confident of luring the 19-year-old England international to Old Trafford, ahead of Premier League rivals Chelsea.

However, a fresh report claims Premier League leaders Liverpool have joined the race for the teenager as Jurgen Klopp hopes to take advantage of the relationship with former club Dortmund. Sky Germany also says Sancho will leave Dortmund at the end of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are preparing to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain, reports El Confidencial. Neymar, who left Barca for a world-record €222m fee in 2017, has been heavily linked with a return to Camp Nou. After missing out on an off-season move, Neymar could be on his way back to the LaLiga giants – who are reportedly willing to sell one or two players to finance the blockbuster transfer.

- According to The Sun, Chelsea are battling United for the signature of 16-year-old Birmingham City sensation Jude Bellingham, who could cost up to £50million. The teenager has also attracted interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid.

- United recruit Odion Ighalo has been barred from the club's training ground due to ongoing coronavirus precautions, says The Mirror. Ighalo arrived from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua on deadline day, moving to United on loan until the end of the season. The Nigeria international, however, has not been allowed to train at Carrington.

Barca have ruled out signing Real Sociedad striker Willian Jose, reports Marca. With Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez sidelined, Barca are set to receive permission to sign an emergency forward within Spain. Real Betis' Loren Moron now reportedly tops the list of targets.

- Sandro Tonali has been valued at €55m and €60m by Brescia amid interest from Serie A champions Juventus and Inter, according to Calciomercato.

- Liverpool, United and Bayern Munich are eyeing Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka, reports the Daily Mail.

- AS claims Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu is at the centre of a transfer tug-of-war between Madrid, United and Atletico Madrid.

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag confirmed Hakim Ziyech is set to join Chelsea at the end of the season, admitting he expected the star forward to leave "one or two years earlier".

Reports on Wednesday emerged that Eredivisie champions Ajax and Premier League giants Chelsea reached a verbal agreement on a €45million (£38m) transfer for Ziyech.

Ziyech came off the bench during Wednesday's 3-0 KNVB Beker victory at Vitesse and Ten Hag provided an update on the 26-year-old Morocco international.

"Ziyech to Chelsea? A transfer was coming, we expected it to happen," Ten Hag told Fox Sports post-game.

"I actually already expected this one or two years earlier. And each time it was: 'Wow, he stayed again'.

"We are just happy that we will still have him until the end of the season."

Ziyech has been directly involved in 166 goals since his Eredivisie debut in 2012-13, contributing 79 goals and 87 assists.

Since joining Ajax from Twente in 2016, Ziyech has scored 38 league goals and 48 across all competitions.

Ziyech's sensational tally of 51 Eredivisie assists from the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest during that period, while his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than his nearest rival.

Ten Hag added: "I am not surprised by the news about Ziyech. I know that our players are very popular with the big clubs in Europe. That is just great.

"I have known for a long time what Hakim wants. He has a picture in mind. He knows exactly which clubs he finds interesting and which ones are not. 

"Chelsea are a fantastic club. When it is final, I am very happy for Hakim, and I am very proud of him."

Each close-season transfer window has a defining 'saga' and everything points to the next revolving around Jadon Sancho and Manchester United.

Media reports began to circulate on Wednesday claiming Sancho is set to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, having emerged as one of world football's next great hopes since joining from Manchester City.

The England international seems likely to return home later this year and United are rumoured to be leading the chase, ready to pay £120million for his signature.

United's issues on the flanks are nothing new. For several years they have seemingly operated with a bizarre square-pegs-round-holes policy, assigning numerous players who clearly aren't wingers to wide roles.

We looked at the data to understand how Sancho stacks up with United's current attacking options.

A PROLIFIC CREATOR

It's difficult to imagine Sancho joining United and not having a swift and decisive impact. The only other genuine winger in their squad is Daniel James, and while the Wales international has enjoyed a solid debut season after a shock move, he has faded recently and clearly lacks a certain presence.

After Andreas Pereira (31), Fred (30) and Marcus Rashford (24), James (23) has created the most Premier League chances for United this term and his haul of six assists isn't matched by any of his team-mates.

By comparison, Sancho has laid on 47 opportunities for team-mates in the Bundesliga this season, the fifth-highest in the division, and his haul of 13 assists is the same amount as James, Anthony Martial and Rashford combined.

SUBTLETY IN THE FINAL THIRD

The United squad isn't exactly blessed with lots of physical attackers renowned for their aerial ability, which suggests hooking hopeful crosses into the box does not represent a fertile route to goal.

For the most part, United forwards aren't desperate to cross, with Pereira (28), Rashford (19) and Martial (7) often looking for alternative ways to penetrate the box, but James (79) is the 11th most-frequent crosser in the league, even if he's some way off Trent Alexander-Arnold (159).

Sancho fits in more with the former group, supplying only 22 crosses this season. Perhaps such a low figure is justified by the fact only five per cent were accurate.

Nevertheless, this does suggest Sancho is more subtle and deliberate with his creativity, and given he has crafted comfortably more chances and goals than the United contingent, it is difficult to argue he should alter his style.

A KEY INFLUENCE

As someone who creates so many opportunities, it wouldn't be unusual to expect Sancho to be somewhat wayward in possession, given the necessity to take risks.

But 80 per cent of his 496 passes into the final third have been accurate. Of the 284 Bundesliga players to play at least 50 passes into that part of the pitch, only 11 have greater accuracy than Sancho, though none of those attempted more than 308.

Martial, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Luke Shaw, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all been more accurate in the final third, but Sancho has attempted far more passes, while none of them have got anywhere close to the Dortmund star's chance creation record.

DEADLY WHEN IT MATTERS

Sancho's not just a creator, however.

As well as his 13 assists, Sancho has also chipped in with 12 Bundesliga goals this season, a figure bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Timo Werner (20).

Those 12 goals came from 37 attempts, meaning he is averaging almost a goal every three shots, comfortably better than Martial (17 per cent of 48 shots) and Rashford (19 per cent of 74 shots).

A complete player in attack, Sancho offers an all-round threat that United simply do not possess.

He also appears to be the ideal player for United stylistically, with his attributes and dynamism similar to the likes of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, around whom club seem intent on building their future.

Will Sancho be the next to join that trio?

Hakim Ziyech will need little introduction to Chelsea fans if the Morocco international does complete his move to Stamford Bridge from Ajax.

Ziyech was one of the best players on the pitch during a barnstorming 4-4 draw in November's Champions League clash.

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been credited with an own goal but it was Ziyech's sensational bending free-kick from the right touchline that did the damage as the visitors opened up a 3-1 half-time lead.

Next season, the 26-year-old appears destined to play much more regularly at the Bridge, with reports claiming the Blues have agreed a £38million deal for the attacking midfielder.

Predominantly employed on the right, Ziyech can also play as a number 10 and here we have used Opta data to take a closer look at an exciting talent.


THE EREDIVISIE'S MASTER CREATOR

Ziyech has been one of the Eredivisie's top performers since breaking into the first team at Heerenveen in 2012 having risen through the club's youth teams.

After a two-year stop at Twente, Ziyech moved to Ajax in August 2016 where his performances domestically and in Europe have seen his star continue to rise.

Since his switch to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, only four players can boast a higher goals return than his 38 while his sensational tally of 51 Eredivisie assists is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest on the list.

Indeed, his combined 89 goal involvements is in the best in the league during this time, seven more than Berghuis, while Bryan Linssen (who has the most goals with 52) is way behind with 66.

To really emphasise Ziyech's attacking brilliance, his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than second-place Berghuis.


MIXING IT WITH MESSI AND MBAPPE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ajax were the great entertainers of the of the 2018-19 Champions League and only a last-gasp goal from Tottenham's Lucas Moura denied Erik ten Hag's men a place in the final.

Ziyech was typically influential in that run to the last four and since August 2018 he has provided seven assists in Europe's premier competition.

That is as many as team-mate Dusan Tadic and just one fewer than the best of eight achieved by Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez - and one more than Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

His five goals are 13 fewer than the sensational 18 scored by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the same time, with Messi registering 14.

Messi tops the list of goal involvements at 20, with Lewandowski (18), Mbappe (17), Raheem Sterling (14), Tadic and Mohamed Salah (both 13) above Ziyech's combined goals and assists tally of 12.

In terms of chances created, Ziyech scores highly as well. His 39 is the same as Christian Eriksen and beaten only by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos (51), Tadic (47) and Messi (41).


THE STATS

- Since the 2012-13 season, Ziyech has made 217 Eredivisie appearances, scored 79 goals and contributed 87 assists.

- Ziyech has at least 10 assists in each of his previous six Eredivisie seasons, no player has managed to do so in more than two campaigns in the same period.

- No players has more assists (51), shots (528), created chances (421), completed dribbles (288) or recoveries (752) than Ziyech in the Eredivisie since he joined Ajax.

- Over the past two seasons, only Mohamed Salah (79) and Messi (77) have taken more Champions League shots than Ziyech (75 same as Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Paul Pogba has said he "can't wait" to return to action for Manchester United as the World Cup winner steps up his ankle rehabilitation.

After starting just five Premier League games so far this season, Pogba appears close to giving manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a much-missed midfield option.

Pogba released video footage of his gym work on Wednesday, with his movement boding well for a comeback after recently having a cast removed.

"Four weeks after surgery, I'm feeling good," he said on the Instagram video.

A further series of images came with captions, with Pogba writing on one: "Can't wait to be back on the pitch."

On another, United's £89.3million record signing wrote of "stretching beyond your limits".

Solskjaer has been cautious around putting a timescale on Pogba's return to action, and the French playmaker was assigned to continue his recovery when team-mates headed to Spain for their ongoing warm-weather camp.

However, the day Pogba pulls on the United shirt again appears to be coming closer.

The former Juventus star has an added incentive to return: United's signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP means Pogba will have a new midfield ally.

Anthony Martial recounted how he was determined to prove Jose Mourinho wrong after falling out of favour during the Portuguese coach's second season at Manchester United.

Martial's United career has been plagued by inconsistency, particularly while Mourinho was in charge.

After a promising debut season at the club, Martial seemed to take a step back during the 2016-17 campaign, starting 18 Premier League matches compared to 29 the previous year and his goals haul also dropped significantly from 11 to four.

Transfer speculation surrounding Martial was rife before the 2017-18 season and he made only three Premier League starts prior to November, but he got himself back into more regular contention, scoring nine times and setting up another five goals.

Mourinho's motivational methods are well-known, as he has never been afraid to criticise his players publicly to get a reaction, and while it seemed to work with Martial, he says he would have preferred alternative treatment.

"It is true that I prefer to be told to my face," Martial told RMC Sport as part of a documentary about Mourinho.

"There is no need for it to be said in front of everybody. Certainly, after that, you want to prove him wrong.

"He did not play me during the first matches of the season. Each time I came on, I scored, and he eventually said to me, 'you see, now you understand what I am after.'

"It can sting, but you just want to show him that you should be on the pitch."

Martial started the 2019-20 season well under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he has struggled to find form of late after being moved into a central role due to the absence of Marcus Rashford.

Mohamed Salah's agent has reiterated no decision has been taken on whether the Liverpool star will represent Egypt at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Egypt Under-23 boss Shawky Gharib confirmed his intention to select Salah as one of three overage players for the football tournament at the Games, though he did concede he has not yet held talks with the player himself.

Speaking last month, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said "it would not be too cool" if Salah were travel to Japan and that the call had yet to be made.

That was a message emphasised again by Salah's agent Ramy Abbas Issa on social media, who quote tweeted a report saying the 27-year-old would be selected with the message: "No decision has been made yet."

If Salah were to represent Egypt it would leave Liverpool without their key forward for pre-season and perhaps some of the beginning of the Premier League campaign.

The gold medal match is scheduled to take place on August 8, the same day as the start of the top-flight season in England.

Dani Ceballos believes he would have risked becoming an Anfield misfit if he had chosen to join Liverpool rather than Arsenal.

The Spain midfielder swapped Real Madrid for the Gunners in a season-long loan deal last July, but only after weighing up the idea of playing for Jurgen Klopp's Champions League winners.

Ceballos reached the conclusion that his style of play would not have been the ideal fit at Liverpool, accepting Unai Emery's invitation to head to London instead.

"I was proud to have a club like Liverpool after me, but I chose Arsenal because of Unai Emery and how he was with me," Ceballos told Marca.

"Klopp is a great coach but you have to look at the playing philosophy of each team. Right now players of my philosophy of play would not fit in the best possible way in a team like Liverpool."

Liverpool's hard-grafting midfielders have helped the Reds pull 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and 42 points ahead of Arsenal, who are toiling in 10th place.

Ceballos endured a long spell out of the Arsenal team because of a hamstring injury and the attack-minded 23-year-old admitted he may have played too often in his early months at the club.

He thinks he suffered the blow "because of an excess of matches", explaining: "I'd played 17 games in two months; I was the only player that had played all these games."

Ceballos had told Emery he wanted to be involved in every fixture, but he looks back now and says: "Sometimes you have to learn from mistakes. I struggled with the injury, but you learn from everything."

He was powerless to prevent Emery losing his job in November, but says successor Mikel Arteta "is going to be a great coach" and possesses the qualities that "Arsenal need right now".

Asked about the change of coach, Ceballos looked back on the turbulent period at Arsenal and said: "I'm f***** on my part because I'd never been injured and annoyingly, I got injured at a time when the team started to unravel a bit.

"I was watching the Arsenal games and I saw that we were struggling, that we weren't winning and that we'd entered a dynamic where we were finding it tough to get points.

"I'm powerless and angry that I wasn't able to have helped the boss [Emery] and repaid everything he'd done for me."

Sadio Mane has revealed the driving force behind his rise to the top after cementing himself as an integral part of an increasingly dominant Liverpool side.

The Senegalese forward won the 2019 CAF African Player of the Year award last month, having helped the Reds to Champions League success in June.

In 36 Premier League outings last year, Mane scored 24 goals and provided six assists, with Jurgen Klopp's side now 22 points clear at the summit after finishing runners-up in the 2018-19 campaign.

Mane, who moved to Anfield from Southampton in 2016, cited the support of his friends and family back home in the village of Bambali as key to his sparkling form.

"I can't describe how they are and how motivated they are especially. They always push me," Mane, who started his career in France with Metz, told Liverpool's official website.

"If you see those people, you push hard and harder to make them proud because it's the only satisfaction they have on it. I have to give back what they have done for me.

"I think it was something special for the village because in the village we had some great players but they were never successful.

"When I came to France and that time I was playing second league, the village never had the channel to watch the second league, so everybody was so excited to see me on TV first of all!

"They were praying for me every day to see me at this level because they will be just proud. How things are going and as I get more motivated and [they get] more excited to see me higher and higher, I think I have to sacrifice myself to make them proud."

Mane has not featured since suffering a hamstring problem in the first half of Liverpool's 2-1 win over Wolves on January 23 but has been back in training this week.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

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