Estudiantes president Juan Sebastian Veron confirmed talks have taken place with Vissel Kobe captain Andres Iniesta over a switch to the Argentine club.

Spanish great Iniesta has been linked to a reunion with former Barcelona team-mate Javier Mascherano at Estudiantes.

The 35-year-old Iniesta – contracted to Vissel until 2021 – has called Japan home since leaving LaLiga giants Barca in 2018.

Amid growing links to Estudiantes – where ex-Barca defender Gabriel Milito is head coach – after Mascherano arrived from Chinese Super League side Hebei China Fortuna, Veron insisted negotiations are yet to take place.

"Today, we can't say that there are negotiations with Iniesta," Veron told La Oral Deportiva. "[But] yes, there are talks.

"[Trying to sign] Iniesta is something that people will not forget about, regardless of whether it materialises or not."

Veron added: "Having Javier in the club is an important fact, not only for Estudiantes but also for Argentine football, for all that he is as a person and a professional."

Iniesta has scored 10 goals since joining Vissel, who also boast Lukas Podolski, Thomas Vermaelen and Sergi Samper, while David Villa retired at the end of the season.

Kylian Mbappe has told Neymar he will never attempt to replace him as Paris Saint-Germain's main man.

With Neymar having struggled with injuries during his time in Paris, Mbappe has often established himself as the key player in PSG's attack since his move from Monaco in 2017.

The 21-year-old scored 39 goals across all competitions last season and already has 18 to his name this campaign.

However, Mbappe insists he is not wishing to take any limelight away from Neymar, who has been in fine form for Thomas Tuchel's side when fit this season.

"When I arrived in Paris, there was no debate. It was him [Neymar], the superstar, whom I had come to help a little," Mbappe told France Football.

"He gets injured, [Brazil go out of] the World Cup and I win it. And there begins to come out of stories about our alleged rivalry, about my willingness to take his place. 

"I was shocked to hear all of this. When I came back in August 2018, the first thing I did was go and catch Neymar to tell him: 'Don't worry, I won't be walking on your flower beds here. I assure you that I do not want to take your place, you can keep it. I'm always here to help you.'"

Mbappe may not be aiming to compete with Neymar, but he is looking to get the better of another superstar.

Lionel Messi won a record sixth Ballon d'Or this year, and Mbappe has set his sights on finishing as the top scorer in Europe, though he acknowledged it will be tough to outdo the Barcelona forward.

"Rather than putting my head down and waiting quietly for the end of the season, I tried to outdo myself," Mbappe said.

"I then realised that I could try to seek this title of best European scorer. But, opposite, there was Messi. I'd score two, he'd score three; I'd score three, he'd score four! 

"It was so crazy that I talked about it with Ousmane [Dembele]. 'It is not possible, does he do it on purpose? He looks at the number of goals I score?' 'Of course he's looking at you!'

"I said to myself: Yes, Messi is watching me. It is flattering to see that such a player does not neglect you."

Manuel Neuer insists suggestions of a rift with fellow Germany goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen were blown out of proportion.

Earlier this year, Bayern Munich's first-choice keeper Neuer criticised his Barca counterpart for making "inappropriate" comments over his disappointment at not playing more regularly for Die Mannschaft.

However, Neuer later talked up the qualities of Ter Stegen, who has become one of the best number ones in the world at Camp Nou, and the former Schalke stopper says there was never an issue between the two.

"In principle, far too much was made of it," Neuer told Kicker. "I've never had a problem with Marc. 

"We train for the national team together. We sit together at breakfast, have a normal conversation - as team-mates, not as competitors.

"Each of us tries to show our best performance for the team so that we can be successful. This is important because we play in a team."

On Sunday, Bayern confirmed Hansi Flick would remain in charge at the Allianz Arena until the end of the season having overseen eight wins from 10 matches across all competitions since taking over from Niko Kovac.

Neuer says Flick has earned his chance to lead Bayern.

"He's been doing great so far. He has a great connection to the team, communicates things very clearly," he added. 

"He definitely deserves the chance right now."

Liverpool cannot afford to sign leading French stars like Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, according to manager Jurgen Klopp.

Premier League leaders Liverpool have no French players in their first-team squad despite Les Bleus having won last year's World Cup.

Mamadou Sakho left for Crystal Palace on a permanent basis in August 2017 and none of his compatriots have moved to Anfield amid Liverpool's rise.

"There's no reason for it," Klopp told Canal Football Club.

"Kylian plays for PSG, Griezmann joined Barcelona. Obviously you know how good your [national] team is.

"We would like a French player but some of them are too expensive for us."

Liverpool will have a new addition to their squad when the transfer window opens on January 1 after agreeing a deal to sign Japanese winger Takumi Minamino from Salzburg.

Klopp's men won the Champions League last season and claimed the Club World Cup with a 1-0 extra-time victory over Flamengo in Saturday's final in Doha.

Their next assignment is a key Premier League clash with Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Boxing Day.

Could Chelsea gazump their Premier League rivals in the race for Jadon Sancho?

According to reports, the Blues are working on a club-record deal for the Borussia Dortmund winger.

Frank Lampard was among Sancho's idols growing up and the Chelsea boss has been open about his desire to bring in a replacement for Eden Hazard.

 

TOP STORY – SANCHO SET FOR STAMFORD BRIDGE?

Chelsea could celebrate the end of their transfer ban by splashing out £120million to secure Borussia Dortmund and England star Jadon Sancho, according to The Sun.

The huge price tag attached to one of Europe's brightest prospects has reportedly quashed Liverpool's interest and Manchester United are also said to be at risk of missing out on a long-term target.

The Sun claims Chelsea head coach Lampard believes Sancho, 19, can be the man to fill the attacking void left by Hazard's close-season departure to Real Madrid.

Sancho has scored nine Bundesliga goals this season and hit eight in seven games across all competitions prior to Dortmund's 2-1 defeat to Hoffenheim on Friday.

 

ROUND-UP

- LaLiga giants Real Madrid and Premier League champions Manchester City are monitoring Marquinhos' contract impasse at Paris Saint-Germain, writes Le 10 Sport. The Ligue 1 leaders are reportedly unwilling to meet the Brazilian's financial demands as they seek to extend his deal beyond 2022.

- There is a "big question mark" hanging over Paco Alcacer's future at Dortmund as the striker struggles to carve out a regular Bundesliga starting spot, reports Ruhr Nachrichten.

- Tottenham have opened talks over a January move for Flamengo midfielder Gerson, says 90min. The 22-year-old started for Flamengo in their Club World Cup final loss to Liverpool on Saturday.

- Barcelona included Arturo Vidal in their starting XI against Deportivo Alaves on Sunday and are now seemingly determined to block his expected Camp Nou exit. According to Mundo Deportivo, the Chilean's agent has met with club executives in a bid to secure a mid-season switch to Serie A, where Inter are rumoured to be his strongest suitors, but €20m will not be enough to do a deal.

- The Nerazzurri's city rivals might have more success in making a midfield acquisition. La Gazzetta dello Sport claims Stefano Pioli's Milan are interested in United outcast Nemanja Matic, who has been linked to Inter.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde paid tribute to Lionel Messi for his innate ability to make a decisive impact following a wonderful goal in Saturday's 4-1 win over Deportivo Alaves.

Other than having an early goal disallowed, Messi had been unusually subdued by his standards at Camp Nou.

Although Barca went into half-time 2-0 up, Alaves scored early in the second period and grew in confidence until Messi struck his 50th goal for club and country this year.

Seemingly surrounded by players, Messi managed to unleashed a fierce strike into the left side of the net from 25 yards and Barca cruised from there, with Luis Suarez – who set up the first three goals – adding a late fourth from the penalty spot.

Despite Suarez arguably being the star of the show, Valverde focused on Messi after the match, singling out his impact when Barca were appearing to lose some of their control.

"All matches require a lot," the coach said. "When they scored, they were spurred on and they had the chance to equalise, but Leo scored a great goal and things are seen in a different way from there.

"I think we played the game well, I would say the first half was very good, then we had less momentum at the beginning of the second. We got a boost with the third goal.

"These things happen with Messi. We see it all the time. Something like that can happen, and it's a huge advantage that we have Messi.

"Leo appears and makes you a goal from anywhere."

With Saturday's win, Barca are likely to go into 2020 top of LaLiga, with Real Madrid needing a big win against Athletic Bilbao to prevent that occurring.

Lionel Messi took his goals tally for club and country in 2019 to 50 with a stunning strike in Barcelona's final match of the year, helping them to a 4-1 win over Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The Argentina superstar had been unusually subdued for much of the match, appearing a little off the pace, but he produced a ferocious 25-yard effort in the second half to ensure he finishes the sixth successive calendar year with at least half a century of goals.

Alaves kept Barca at bay for only 14 minutes, as Antoine Griezmann scored his fourth goal in seven matches across all competitions, and Arturo Vidal doubled their lead with a fierce strike just before half-time.

The visitors did hit back through Pere Pons early in the second half, offering them encouragement, but Messi effectively ended their hopes with his wonderful strike and Luis Suarez – who had set up the first three goals – deservedly got in on the act late on from a controversial penalty.

The warning signs were there early on for Alaves, as Messi had a goal disallowed in the 10th minute as a VAR review identified him to have strayed marginally offside.

But with their next move, Barca opened the scoring – Griezmann placing a right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner from the edge of the box following Suarez's lay off.

Vidal was similarly decisive late in the half, receiving Suarez's pass and blasting an emphatic strike in across goal.

Alaves began the second period brightly and got themselves a lifeline through Pons' powerful header, leaving Marc-Andre ter Stegen no chance when arriving late to meet Ruben Duarte's cross.

But Messi turned on the style 21 minutes from time when lashing in from almost 30 yards despite being seemingly surrounded.

And the excellent Suarez rounded off the scoring soon after, converting from 12 yards after a VAR review deemed Martin Aguirregabiria to have handled the Uruguayan's previous header.

What does it mean? Barca set to start 2020 top

Although the scoreline arguably flattered Barca, there was rarely any doubt about who was going to win and the victory means they should begin the New Year top of the league.

Only a remarkable result in Real Madrid's match against Athletic Bilbao will prevent that.

Suarez knits it all together

Several Barca players have come in for significant criticism this season, with Suarez among them. But on Saturday he was excellent, playing a hand in all four goals. His awareness when setting up the first three was particularly impressive.

Ely fails to halt Suarez

The man tasked with keeping Suarez under control was Rodrigo Ely. The Brazilian failed. He barely got near the striker all match and had a miserable outing.

What's next?

LaLiga's winter break kicks in for these two sides now. Barca's season resumes on January 4 at struggling city rivals Espanyol, while Alaves host Real Betis the following day.

Lionel Messi reached 50 goals for the sixth consecutive calendar year by netting for Barcelona against Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.

The 32-year-old scored with a superb 20-yard curling strike in the 69th minute at Camp Nou as Barca moved closer to a key LaLiga victory.

Messi's effort restored Barca's two-goal advantage after Alaves had responded to earlier strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Arturo Vidal with an effort of their own from Pere Pons.

Argentina forward Messi moved on to 50 goals from 58 matches for club and country in 2019. He has also provided 18 assists as part of a fine year that saw him win a record sixth Ballon d'Or.

Of Messi's 50 this year, 34 have arrived in 32 LaLiga matches, with eight scored in the Champions League and three in the Copa del Rey. 

The remaining five came in matches for Argentina, for whom he has made 10 appearances this year.

Messi's extraordinary consistency has seen him score 50 or more in nine of the last 10 years, the only one in that span where he missed out being 2013, when he notched 45.

His best year came when he scored an astonishing 91 in 2012.

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba is coveted at the Santiago Bernabeu.

His French connection with Zinedine Zidane means there is constant speculation.

However, Pogba is set to remain at United for the time being.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID GIVE UP ON POGBA… FOR NOW

LaLiga giants Real Madrid will not sign Manchester United star Paul Pogba in January, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Pogba – still recovering from injury – continues to be linked with Madrid amid doubts over his United future.

Madrid, however, recognise there is "no chance" of prising the Frenchman from Old Trafford in the New Year.

 

ROUND-UP

- A return to Chelsea for Bournemouth's Nathan Ake looks likely, claims Bleacher Report. Chelsea have a £40million buyback clause for Ake, who left Stamford Bridge permanently in 2017. Manchester City have also been linked to the 24-year-old defender.

- Barcelona defender Jean-Clair Todibo has turned down a move to Milan, reports RMC. The 19-year-old has also been linked to Ligue 1 outfit Monaco and Premier League giants Manchester United.

- Qatari outfit Al Rayyan have re-opened talks with Juventus regarding the transfer of out-of-favour striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Gianluca Di Marzio. United and Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund are also reportedly interested in the veteran Croatian.

Napoli have offered Dries Mertens a two-year contract extension, says Sky Sport Italia. The Belgian, who is out of contract at season's end, has been the subject of reported interest from Dortmund.

- Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to swap Leandro Paredes for Juventus midfielder Emre Can, reports the Daily Mail.

- La Nazione says Fiorentina are looking to bring former Milan striker Patrick Cutrone back to Serie A. The Italian left San Siro for Premier League side Wolves at the start of the season.

- Former Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta is in talks to join Javier Mascherano at Argentine outfit Estudiantes. Iniesta currently plays for Vissel Kobe in Japan, however, TNT Sports claims the 35-year-old midfielder could move in 2020.

Mikel Arteta is the latest man to be charged with restoring success to a failing Arsenal, and Gunners fans will hope his previous working relationship with Pep Guardiola gives the Basque coach a head start.

Arsenal ditched another Basque tactician in Unai Emery last month and the process to appoint a replacement has been anything but swift.

Freddie Ljungberg took charge in an interim capacity but managed just a single win in five matches, highlighting the sorry state of the situation inherited by Arteta, whose appointment as head coach was confirmed on Friday.

It is former Arsenal captain Arteta's first job in management, having spent the three years since he retired from playing working as an assistant to Guardiola at Manchester City.

Guardiola has credited Arteta with improving him as a manager and believes the San Sebastian native is "absolutely ready" to strike out on his own after a "magnificent" time together at City.

Given his success in management, Guardiola has unsurprisingly been mentioned as a major inspiration for many coaches.

Here, we examine four others to have worked closely with Guardiola and enjoyed success.

Tito Vilanova

Guardiola and Vilanova came through Barcelona's youth academy together as youngsters, though the latter went on to spend much of his playing career in the lower divisions. They reunited as coaches in 2007, with Vilanova assuming the role of assistant with the Barcelona B side, before taking up a similar position when Guardiola was promoted to the senior team the following year.

They worked together until Guardiola departed in 2012, with Vilanova subsequently appointed his successor. He led Barca to LaLiga success despite requiring a leave of absence for cancer treatment, but he officially stepped down in July 2013 due to a relapse. Vilanova died in April 2014 due to complications from cancer.

Luis Enrique

Although Luis Enrique never worked specifically in tandem with Guardiola, he did succeed his friend and former team-mate when taking charge of Barca B in 2008. That meant Luis Enrique's team fed directly into Guardiola's senior side for three seasons.

"You could see from the start he was special," the City boss once said of the former attacking midfielder, who like Guardiola also won a treble in his debut season in charge of the Barcelona first team after spells at Roma and Celta Vigo. Luis Enrique has since gone on to become Spain coach.

Erik ten Hag

Ten Hag had already coached a senior team when he was put in charge of Bayern Munich's second string in June 2013, having led Go Ahead Eagles to a sixth-placed finish in the Eerste Divisie. Despite managing separate teams at the club, Ten Hag and first-team boss Guardiola worked closely. Guardiola said last season: "I was lucky to meet him at Bayern and he was an assistant from the second team. We had a lot of chats."

Ten Hag left Bayern the year before Guardiola and led Utrecht to fifth and fourth in the Eredivisie, earning him a shot at the big time with Ajax. Since his December 2017 appointment, the Dutchman has won a league title and taken Ajax to the Champions League semis last term. A return to Bayern – but this time with the senior side – appears likely.

Domenec Torrent

It is unlikely there is anyone in world football more familiar with Guardiola's work than Torrent. After first teaming up with Barcelona B, the pair worked side by side for 11 years until 2018. "When we started in La Tercera [fourth tier in Spain], I never thought I would be with him so much, but then we won every possible title," Torrent told El Diario earlier this year when he was in charge of New York City FC.

He presided over the MLS side as they won the Eastern Conference this year, before stepping down in November. Although keen to continue his management career, don't rule out a return to Guardiola's side. "If Pep calls me, I will go [to him]," Torrent said in May. "I am grateful and I know that I owe it all to him. If I had not been his assistant, I would not be here. I like being a head coach and I will only stop being one if Pep thinks I can be useful [to him]."

Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde said debating VAR is a futile exercise after Real Madrid bemoaned the officiating in Wednesday's Clasico draw.

The two LaLiga rivals played out an uneventful stalemate at Camp Nou in midweek, with Madrid unhappy over perceived injustice regarding multiple unsuccessful penalty appeals.

Centre-back Raphael Varane had two shouts for spot-kicks turned down in the opening 45 minutes, the first for a high challenge from Clement Lenglet that left the Madrid defender with stud marks on his thigh.

Varane also had his shirt pulled by Ivan Rakitic in the box but, as was the case with the Lenglet tackle, referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez remained uninterested in the appeals and neither incident was checked using the VAR pitchside monitor.

Madrid posted a statement on their website highlighting "two controversial moments" but Valverde was unwilling to discuss VAR in great detail.

"People will always be talking after Clasicos - this was one where we had a two-month build up to it and the post-Clasico debates will always be intense," Valverde told a news conference.

"Some people play football on the pitch, some are in the press room, we've all got to eat! That's what our jobs are.

"I really don't like getting involved in these discussions, there's nothing to be gained. Controversies are always going to be part of football."

Barcelona's president Josep Maria Bartomeu had said he intended to write a letter to the Spanish Football Federation complaining about the use of VAR in last weekend's 2-2 draw with Real Sociedad.

However, Valverde stressed that the use of VAR will never bring an end to the controversies that occur during a game and different clubs will feel aggrieved throughout the season.

"We have talked about this before, with VAR the polemics won't end," he added.

"It is united to football, is in many conversations, many previews and post matches, social gatherings.

"Sometimes we forget that the VAR is here to help the referee but it's the referee who judges.

"Sometimes one club complains, sometimes others. I have the feeling that 2020 will remain the same."

Ernesto Valverde does not foresee any of his Barcelona players departing in January, with Milan-linked defender Jean-Clair Todibo returning to the squad for Saturday's game against Deportivo Alaves.

Teenager Todibo, 19, has played just 77 minutes in LaLiga for Valverde's side this season, and his only start came against Sevilla back in October.

That has led to speculation the Frenchman could be jettisoned to Serie A club Milan next month, though Valverde included Todibo in the 20-man squad Barca named on Friday.

Arturo Vidal is another player who has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou, with reports claiming the Chile international stormed out of training upon leaning he would not be starting Wednesday's Clasico.

However, Valverde does not expect to lose Todibo or Vidal in the next window as he looks to deliver a third straight LaLiga title.

"I'm really happy with the players I've got," he told a news conference. "I don't expect any modifications."

Though Todibo and Vidal were both named in the group to face Alaves, teenager Ansu Fati was not included.

The club later confirmed Fati faced a spell on the sidelines with a hip problem.

Sergio Busquets missed the goalless draw with Real Madrid because of illness, though Valverde expects the midfielder to return this weekend.

"I hope so; he trained normally today," Valverde said.

"The fever seems to have gone away, he should be able to play." 

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah is displaying a similar level of quality to Lionel Messi, according to former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Salah has won the Premier League's Golden Boot award for the past two seasons - although he shared it with club team-mate Sadio Mane and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19 - and the 27-year-old already has 13 goals to his name in all competitions this season.

The former Roma forward has also provided seven assists, a tally which includes teeing up Naby Keita's opening goal in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Monterrey in the Club World Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.

With the Egyptian stepping into a playmaker role as well as being an unerringly accurate finisher, Wenger believes Salah is now showing flashes of play on the same level as Barcelona superstar and 2019 Ballon d'Or winner Messi.

"I like his evolution," Wenger told beIN Sports. "Because he had touches [against Monterrey] of a playmaker.

"He created chances around the box that are exceptional, there were shades of Messi in him and I like that a guy who can score so many goals also becomes the guy who gives assists.

"That is a complete player. That's what we all admire and what we want from our players."

Wenger was speaking in a joint interview with Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, who echoed the Frenchman's sentiment.

"Very good, very good experiences [with Salah] but the most positive was on the training ground – sensationally good," Klopp said. "On the pitch he's great, really, really good."

Liverpool take on Copa Libertadores champions Flamengo in the Club World Cup final on Saturday.

Clement Lenglet called for two contentious refereeing decisions to be respected after Real Madrid were left disgruntled with VAR during Wednesday's goalless Clasico.

The Barcelona defender was fortunate not to concede a penalty when he caught Raphael Varane's thigh with a raised boot in the first half at Camp Nou.

Referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez allowed play to continue and decided against punishing another apparent infringement on Varane a few moments later, the Madrid centre-back tumbling to the floor following a tug on his shirt from Ivan Rakitic.

Neither incident was reviewed on the pitchside monitor as video official opted not to intervene.

Madrid called attention to the "two controversial moments" in a statement on their website after captain Sergio Ramos criticised the failure of technology to fix what he viewed as "pretty clear" fouls.

Lenglet disagreed and said the decisions should be respected.

"For me, it's not a penalty," he told Movistar when asked about his challenge on fellow France defender Varane.

"I wanted to get the ball out with my head and give strength to my movement. I used my body and legs for that and unfortunately I touched Raphael's leg.

"I'm the protagonist and I know I'm going to clear the ball. I'm not a player who likes to kick people. But if some believe it's a penalty, it's up to the VAR.

"The VAR made a decision and must be respected."

Madrid winger Gareth Bale later had a goal disallowed for an offside against Ferland Mendy as neither side mustered a winner.

Jordi Alba squandered a good chance for Barca before Lionel Messi, who had one attempt cleared off the line, made a mess of a late opportunity to snatch all three points.

"We had clear scoring chances," Lenglet said. "Two for Messi, Luis Suarez. We're left with a bittersweet feeling.

"Madrid are a team with quality and when they come here, they come more to defend."

Real Madrid publicly highlighted the perceived injustice of multiple unsuccessful penalty shouts following their goalless Clasico draw against Barcelona on Wednesday.

Raphael Varane had two strong appeals turned down in the first half, the first for a high challenge from Barca defender Clement Lenglet at Camp Nou following a free-kick midweek.

Barca's Ivan Rakitic had grappled with the defender in the seconds before that incident and then tugged Varane's shirt when competing for a corner moments later in the LaLiga blockbuster showdown.

Referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez let play continue and neither incident was checked using the VAR pitchside monitor.

Sergio Ramos described them as "pretty clear" penalties and Madrid called attention to the "two controversial moments" in a statement on their website.

It read: "The Frenchman could have had two penalties in the first half but Hernandez Hernandez did not give either of them.

"On minute 17, [Varane] went to head a corner before Lenglet stood on his thigh muscle in the area, but neither the referee nor VAR [where (Ricardo) de Burgos Bengoetxea was in charge] deemed it a penalty.

"Two minutes later and following another corner, the central defender had his shirt pulled by Ivan Rakitic, which saw him end up on the ground in the penalty area.

"However, once again, neither the referee or the VAR system decided to award the penalty."

Madrid winger Gareth Bale had a goal disallowed for an offside against Ferland Mendy after half-time as both sides failed to muster a winner.

The stalemate left them level on points in LaLiga, but Barca hold the advantage on goal difference.

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