Pep Guardiola and defenders. It's been an expensive exercise for Manchester City.

Still trying to fill the glaring void left by long-serving captain Vincent Kompany in 2019, and reeling after a stunning 5-2 Premier League drubbing at the hands of Leicester City, Manchester City have turned to Ruben Dias.

Benfica and Portugal centre-back Dias will cost City an initial £62million (€68m), plus £2.1m (€3.6m) in add-ons should the 23-year-old trigger various performance-related clauses.

Sunday's announcement, with Nicolas Otamendi set to move in the opposite direction, takes Guardiola's spending as City manager on defenders to in excess of £410m (€451m) since 2016.

While City have won two Premier League titles under Guardiola, the team's defence remains an Achilles heel, especially in pursuit of European glory.

As City welcome Dias to Manchester, we look at Guardiola's previous defender signings while in the Citizens dugout.

 

Ruben Dias €68m (£62m)

He is Guardiola's latest big-money defensive signing. Previously linked to the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham, Dias arrives having emerged from Benfica's academy ahead of the 2017-18 season. He helped Benfica to Primeira Liga glory in 2018-19.

Joao Cancelo €65m (£59m)

The full-back position is a complex area for Guardiola, whose formation often centres on inverted full-backs and overloads. City splashed the cash on Cancelo last year but question marks remain over the 26-year-old Portugal international.

Aymeric Laporte €65m (£59m)

Of all of Guardiola's recruits in central defence, Laporte is the only one to truly convince. However, Laporte's fitness has proven a problem since being prised away from Athletic Bilbao two years ago.

Benjamin Mendy €57.5m (£52m)

A key member in Monaco's memorable run to the 2016-17 Champions League semi-finals and triumphant Ligue 1 campaign, Mendy arrived amid much fanfare in 2017. Mendy's off-field activities and his knee issues have prevented City from seeing the best of the France international left-back week in, week out.

John Stones €55.6m (£50m)

Identified as the ideal ball-playing centre-back to fit into Guardiola's system, it has not gone according to plan for Stones, who left Everton in 2016. After a promising start to life, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss appears to have lost faith in the often-injured Englishman.

Kyle Walker €52.7m (£48m)

Walker has served well under Guardiola, having joined as one of the best players in the league in 2017. Aside from a couple of dips in form and questionable off-field choices, the ex-Tottenham full-back remains important to what Pep is trying to achieve in Manchester.

Nathan Ake €45.3m (£41m)

Ake was the first defender through the door ahead of the 2020-21 season after City were dethroned by Liverpool last term. Lured away from relegated Bournemouth, the left-footed centre-back has started both of City's Premier League fixtures, scoring in the humbling defeat to Leicester.

Danilo €30m (£27m)

The Brazilian full-back is no longer a City player. Part of the deal that saw Cancelo swap Juventus for City in 2019, Danilo arrived as a LaLiga champion and two-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid. But the 29-year-old never really convinced in a City shirt.

Angelino €12m (£10.9m)

Part of City's youth team from 2013, Angelino eventually left for Dutch giants PSV five years later. After impressing in Eindhoven, City triggered their buy-back clause to re-sign the Spaniard in July 2019. Angelino made 12 appearances before being loaned out to RB Leipzig in the second half of last season. Despite interest from Barca, he is back on loan in Leipzig.

Oleksandr Zinchenko €2m (£1.8m)

The 23-year-old left-back was plucked from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2016. Following a couple of loan spells, Guardiola has often called on Zinchenko, who played 19 Premier League matches in 2019-20.

Pep Guardiola insisted it was not right for him to talk on Lionel Messi's behalf after the transfer saga that saw the Barcelona superstar heavily linked with a move to Manchester City.

Messi asked to leave Barca in the tumultuous aftermath of their humiliating 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

City were widely viewed as the frontrunners for his signature, with a reunion between Messi and Guardiola heavily tipped to happen before the six-time Ballon d'Or winner announced he would remain at Barcelona for the final year of his contract, accusing president Josep Maria Bartomeu of going back on his word and making the financial cost of any deal for a buying club "impossible".

LaLiga backed Barca in confirming the €700million release clause in Messi's contract remained valid.

Speaking ahead of Monday's trip to Wolves, where City will begin their attempt to unseat Liverpool and win a third Premier League title in four seasons, Guardiola was keen not to cause any friction with his former employers.

"I think I don't have to explain anything," he said. "Leo explained quite well his feelings, I don't have anything to add.

"He's a football player for FC Barcelona, the club I love, and there is nothing more to say."

Asked whether City would be interested in signing Messi were he to become available, at the age of 34, when his contract expires in June, Guardiola replied: I don't know. It's a question for Leo Messi. I cannot talk about the intentions of other people."

Guardiola's forward line at Molineux will be entirely without Argentinian talent after he confirmed City's record goalscorer Sergio Aguero is yet to resume full training following meniscus surgery in June.

Riyad Mahrez is set to feature after time in isolation following a positive coronavirus test, although centre-back Aymeric Laporte only returned to training from his own COVID-19 absence on Friday, so is a doubt.

That could mean a debut for Nathan Ake at centre-back, one of two major close-season acquisitions for Guardiola, alongside winger Ferran Torres from Valencia.

"So far really good," he said of how Ake and Torres had settled.

"What we have to do with all the players and staff, the people close to them, is to help them to settle as quickly as possible.

"They are two nice people and it's good to have them with us."

City have been extensively linked with a move for Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, with the deal appearing to have stalled over recent weeks.

Nevertheless, Guardiola has no qualms over how his club have backed him in the transfer market.

"Since day one, when I arrived here, I was more than satisfied with what I had in the team," he added.

"The club do absolutely everything to do their best for all of us. I'm a lucky person to have these players and be in this club."

Italy moved top of Nations League Group A1 with a deserved 1-0 win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam on Monday.

Nicolo Barella powered in a header in first-half injury time to secure all three points for Roberto Mancini's men, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Bosnia-Herzegovina on Friday.

The Netherlands, still looking for a replacement for former head coach Ronald Koeman, managed only three shots on target throughout a rather blunt display at the Johan Cruijff ArenA.

Memphis Depay, heavily linked with a potential move to Barcelona to work under Koeman, was largely isolated and unable to affect the Dutch attack as Italy made it six games unbeaten against the Oranje.

Barella had forced Jasper Cillessen into a good save 27 minutes into a rather quiet first half in which Italy, who handed Manuel Locatelli his debut, lost Nicolo Zaniolo to injury.

The opening goal came in the first minute of injury time, Barella heading in Ciro Immobile's pinpoint cross as Nathan Ake stood and watched.

Gianluigi Donnarumma denied Donny van de Beek an equaliser early in the second half, the goalkeeper acrobatically tipping over a first-time strike from the new Manchester United signing.

Italy threatened on the break but could not extend their lead, although Donnarumma was mostly untested behind an imperious defensive display.

 

What does it mean? Italy move top of Group A1

The Azzurri have four points from two games, one more than the Netherlands, who began the latest Nations League group stage with a 1-0 defeat of Poland.

Monday's game showed why they need to find a suitable replacement for Koeman sooner rather than later, as Italy continue to show signs of progress under Mancini.

Chiellini a rock

Much of Depay's lack of openings was down to him being marshalled superbly by Giorgio Chiellini, who made eight clearances and four interceptions - the most of any Italy player.

Ake caught cold

The Oranje defence looked susceptible to the counter-attack throughout and one positive run from Barella gifted him a free header as Ake stood idly by. The new Manchester City signing later left the pitch with an apparent hamstring problem.

What's next?

The Netherlands face Mexico in a friendly on October 7, four days before their next Nations League clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Italy host Moldova before heading to Poland on the same matchdays.

Manchester City have completed the signing of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for a reported fee of £41million.

Pep Guardiola has been searching for another option at centre-back since Vincent Kompany's departure in May 2019.

Aymeric Laporte endured injury issues in the 2019-20 campaign, though the Frenchman was a regular following the restart of the Premier League season in June, while doubts remain over the futures of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

Youngster Eric Garcia put in some impressive displays, but City – who have also been linked with Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly – have now moved to bolster their defensive ranks by bringing in Ake.

The Netherlands international, who Bournemouth signed permanently from Chelsea for £20m in 2017, has signed a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium.

"City have been the best side in England over the course of the last decade," Ake told his new club's website.

"Coming here is a dream for me. This is a top side full of world-class players. Everywhere you look in this squad there are big names with international pedigree.

"Pep is a manager admired across the world - what he's done in the game speaks for itself. The success he's had is unbelievable and the style of football he plays really appeals to me.

"I know I'm going to have to work hard to get into the side, but that's what I'm here to do. I'll do whatever I can to make an impact and help the team win silverware."

After featuring in every Premier League match for the Cherries in 2017-18 and 2018-19, injuries restricted Ake to 29 league appearances as Eddie Howe's side dropped out of the top flight.

The 25-year-old becomes City's second signing since the conclusion of the Premier League season, quickly following on from Tuesday's announcement of Ferran Torres' arrival from Valencia.

A Spain Under-21 international who scored four goals and provided five assists in 34 LaLiga appearances, Torres is also on a deal that runs through until 2025.

Nathan Ake has the intelligence to succeed at Manchester City despite his diminutive stature, according to Kolo Toure.

City have sealed a £41million deal to bolster their defensive options by bringing in Netherlands international Ake from relegated Bournemouth.

The 25-year-old stands at 5ft 11ins, meaning he is not an obviously dominant presence in the air for an already diminutive City side.

But Toure, who won Premier League titles as a centre-back at City and Arsenal despite himself being under six feet, believes Ake has shown himself to have the skillset to negotiate this disadvantage.

"You have to be really intelligent. You have to anticipate things quicker," he told Stats Perform News when discussing the demands placed upon shorter central defenders.

"When you want to jump, you have to make sure that you read the ball very well and attack at the right time.

"He's got that. You can see he's a very intelligent player, because the difficulty in the Premier League is the long balls. But if you time your jump well, you can win the ball.

"As well, what is crucial is players around you. They have to make sure that the players around you think that you might lose an aerial battle. It won't be a problem for him."

One of the players around Ake will be City's leading centre-back Aymeric Laporte.

Ake's initial role in Pep Guardiola's squad is expected to be as an understudy to the ball-playing Frenchman, with moves for Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly or Sevilla's Diego Carlos also mooted in a defensive overhaul.

The prospect of Ake and Laporte playing alongside each other in a defensive pairing is an unusual one, given both are left-footed, but Toure does not see why it cannot work.

"It's very unusual to have two left-foot players. But why not if you have two with right feet?" he added. "As long as they are intelligent and can use their right foot as well.

"I can understand the point - when you don't see something often you always doubt it a little bit. But the boy is a good player."

Manchester City have completed the signing of Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for a reported fee of £41million.

Pep Guardiola has been in search of another centre-back since Vincent Kompany's departure last May.

Aymeric Laporte endured an injury hit campaign in 2019-20, though the Frenchman was a regular following the restart of the Premier League season in June, while doubts remain over the futures of John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

Youngster Eric Garcia put in some impressive displays towards the end of the season, but City – who have also been linked with Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly – have now moved to bolster their defensive ranks, with Ake joining from relegated Bournemouth.

The 25-year-old Netherlands international, who Bournemouth signed permanently from Chelsea for £20m in 2017, has penned a five-year contract at the Etihad Stadium.

"City have been the best side in England over the course of the last decade," he told his new club's website.

"Coming here is a dream for me. This is a top side full of world-class players. Everywhere you look in this squad there are big names with international pedigree.

"Pep is a manager admired across the world – what he’s done in the game speaks for itself. The success he’s had is unbelievable and the style of football he plays really appeals to me.

"I know I’m going to have to work hard to get into the side, but that’s what I’m here to do. I’ll do whatever I can to make an impact and help the team win silverware."

After featuring in every Premier League match for the Cherries in 2017-18 and 2018-19, injury restricted Ake to 29 league appearances last season as Eddie Howe's side dropped out of the top flight.

Will Manchester United sign Jadon Sancho or not?

That is the question dominating headlines as United reportedly negotiate with Borussia Dortmund.

This transfer saga is one to watch.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED READY TO END SANCHO PURSUIT

Manchester United are threatening to walk away from a deal to sign Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, according to reports in England.

Sancho has been tipped to swap Dortmund for United, with Bild claiming a lucrative five-year contract has been agreed as the Bundesliga outfit insist on a €120million (£108m) fee.

But Goal, Sky Sports and The Mirror say United are ready to pursue alternatives of Dortmund do not lower their demands.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Guardian reports Leicester City are trying to sign Francisco Trincao from Barcelona. Leicester have proposed a two-season loan deal with an obligation to buy for £45m (€50m). Trincao is preparing to link up with Barca after the LaLiga giants signed the 20-year-old from Braga in January.

- Premier League champions Liverpool are eyeing a move for Norwich City left-back  Jamal Lewis, says The Mirror. Lewis impressed in 2019-20 as Norwich were relegated and Liverpool are looking to wrap up a £10m deal.

- Gianluca Di Marzio claims Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier is open to joining Serie A side Milan.

- According to Tuttomercatoweb, Juventus are lining up possible replacements for under-fire head coach Maurizio Sarri. Former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi, Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini and Luciano Spalletti have all been linked.

-  Aston Villa are aiming to keep star captain and rumoured United target Jack Grealish by offering a new contract, reports The Sun.

- Linked with United , Everton and Napoli, France Bleu Nord claims Arsenal are leading the race for Lille centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.

- Is Federico Chiesa set for Old Trafford? La Nazione reports United have made a €55m (£49m) offer for the Fiorentina forward, who has also been linked to Inter, Juve and Chelsea .

- Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake is poised to complete his move to Manchester City. Fabrizio Romano reports there is a total agreement and a medical will take place in the next couple of days.

Manchester City are wasting little time in their close-season rebuild after a bid for Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake was reportedly accepted on Thursday.

A deal worth an initial £40million is said to have been agreed with the relegated Cherries as City reinforce options in a defence that drew criticism during Liverpool's march to the 2019-20 Premier League title.

But just what will City be adding to their central defensive options if a deal for Ake goes through?

With some help from Opta, we took a look at the data comparing the Dutch centre-back to Aymeric Laporte, John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi and Eric Garcia, going back to when Ake joined Bournemouth on a permanent deal ahead of the 2017-18 campaign.


CASE FOR THE DEFENCE?

Scoring goals was, unsurprisingly, not a problem for City this season as they racked up a mightily impressive 102 in the Premier League.

Indeed, the 35 they conceded was the second-best record in the division – Ederson claimed the Golden Glove thanks to 16 clean sheets - but represented a dip against the respective 27 and 23 they shipped in the previous two campaigns.

So, will Ake help Pep Guardiola's side improve at the back? There are certainly positive signs.

For instance, Ake has won more tackles (88) and duels (469) than any of Laporte (33 and 226), Stones (32 and 208), Otamendi (71 and 325) or Garcia (1 and 25) in our timeframe.

But, as the more astute among you will recognise, this does not nearly paint a full picture, not least because Ake has comfortably the most appearances with 105, compared to Otamendi (76), Laporte (59), Stones (58) and Garcia (13).

A more useful indicator could be a tackle success rate of 58.67, which ranks third behind Stones (68.09) and Otamendi (64.55). When it comes to duel success percentage, Ake's 58.12 is higher only than Garcia's (42.37).

Indeed, when looking at the data for averages per 90 minutes Ake still performs reasonably well. Only Otamendi (1.08) performs better in terms of tackles won (0.85 for Ake), while the Argentine is the only man to come out on top on average in more duels (4.95 to 4.55).

For aerial balls won, Ake's 2.48 on average per game fairs pretty well compared to Stones (2.92) and Otamendi (2.77) and is better than Laporte's (2.3) and Garcia's (1.25) – albeit the latter has played in far fewer games.

One area on the face of it where Ake excels is blocks and interceptions, where his 88 and 115 are higher than Otamendi's 22 and 99 – the next best of the five for those metrics.

But again there are caveats. When assessing the data on average per 90 minutes, both Otamendi (1.51) and Laporte (1.27) average more than Ake (1.12).

With blocks it appears simply a case of workload. Ake has faced 14.31 shots per 90 minutes. By contrast, Garcia (7.63), Stones (7.03), Otamendi (6.41) and Laporte (6.16) face significantly fewer.


KEEP THE BALL, PASS THE BALL

If you're a defender playing under Guardiola, you need to be as comfortable on the ball as you are off it.

Initial analysis on this department suggests Ake has work to do, although the amount of time City spend in possession certainly should help.

Ake's 3,853 successful passes is lower than Otamendi (5,393) and Laporte (4,580) despite having played the most games, while he ranks second behind the former in terms of successful passes in his own half (2,803) and only ahead of Garcia for successful passes in the opposition half (1,050) – where City defenders spend a lot of their time camped.

His passing accuracy of 85.7 is comfortably the worst, with Stones (94.69) leading the way.

Again, what is important to note here is that it should be expected City's defenders perform better with this measurement, given the amount of time they spend on the ball.

Indeed, City's possession average of 68.89 per cent far outweighs the 45.67 Bournemouth enjoy.

It stands to reason that Ake's numbers could easily improve in this regard when part of a team that, more often than not, will beat their opponents in the possession stats.


FOUL PLAY!

Okay, admittedly this section is a little mischievous…

You see, under Guardiola, City have earned a reputation (rightly or wrongly, we'll let you be the judge) for being somewhat adept at tactical fouls.

Over our time period, Ake has committed 64 fouls, more than Otamendi (57), Laporte (40), Stones (17) and Garcia (9).

When looking at the same factor over 90 minutes per game, Ake's 0.62 is lower than Garcia (1.03), Otamendi (0.87) and Laporte (0.72).

So, maybe there is a little bit of work to be done with that one…

Manchester City are set to make a splash in the transfer market and defence is the area in the spotlight.

City struggled defensively in the absence of injured star Aymeric Laporte following Vincent Kompany's exit, while there are doubts over John Stones' future in Manchester.

Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake are reportedly high on Pep Guardiola's wish list as he attempts to strengthen his squad after watching Liverpool coast to the Premier League title.

 

TOP STORY – CITY NOTIFY NAPOLI OF KOULIBALY INTENT

Manchester City have informed Napoli they are ready to make an offer for star defender Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Sky Sport Italia.

Pep Guardiola has set his sights on Koulibaly, who has also been linked to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

City are willing to bid €65million (£58m) but Napoli are still holding out for €100m (£90m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying in Manchester and Sky Sports says City are in talks with Bournemouth over the signing of another defender – Nathan Ake. The Guardian claims City are poised to beat neighbours United and Chelsea to the Netherlands international.

- Sky Germany reports Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz has agreed terms with Chelsea as he moves closer to arriving at Stamford Bridge. Havertz has been linked to Madrid, United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barcelona but he appears set to join Chelsea. Win Sports TV journalist Pipe Sierra, meanwhile, claims Chelsea and Leverkusen have agreed an €85m (£77m) fee plus €15m (£13.5m) in bonuses.

Juventus are eyeing former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino as a possible replacement for head coach Maurizio Sarri, according to La Stampa.

- The Daily Mail says Southampton are set to sign Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu. The 21-year-old has reportedly attracted interest from United and Atletico Madrid.

Theo Hernandez has no plans to leave Milan amid interest from Ligue 1 champions PSG, reports Calciomercato. Hernandez is enjoying a fine season with a resurgent Rossoneri team under Stefano Pioli.

- Gianluca Di Marzio claims there is a €60m agreement between Napoli and Lille for Victor Osimhen but the Serie A outfit still has to resolve matters with the forward's new agent.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dismissed the idea of signing Bournemouth's Nathan Ake after a video appearing to show the Manchester United manager suggesting he wanted to do a deal for the centre-back went viral.

United crushed Bournemouth 5-2 in the Premier League on Saturday, with Ake featuring for the visitors at Old Trafford.

At full-time, Solskjaer greeted Ake and briefly exchanged words, and a clip of that moment was shared on social media with subtitles suggesting the Norwegian told the Netherlands international he was hoping to buy a left-footed centre-back.

Unsurprisingly it led to considerable debate and interest on social channels, though Solskjaer has distanced himself from his alleged comments.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Thursday's Premier League trip to Aston Villa, Solskjaer said: "I've got seven centre-backs.

"I don't know where that's come from. We're fine."

Another player who has been strongly linked with a switch to Old Trafford this season is Jack Grealish, who will be hoping to impress at Villa Park on Thursday.

The attacking midfielder caught the eye and scored a spectacular goal when the two teams played out a 2-2 draw in December, though Solskjaer would not be lured into a trap by lavishing him with praise, adamant United cannot afford to just concentrate on the playmaker.

"I think in the last game they caused us some problems, both Grealish off left and [Anwar] El Ghazi on right," he said.  

"He [Grealish] scored a fantastic goal. There's been loads said about him and we need to be aware of him, if he's off the left, middle or right.

"He attracts players to him but there's not just one player in that Villa team, there are a lot of them."

United go to Villa Park 16 matches unbeaten across all competitions and, following Leicester City's 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Tuesday, know victory will leave them just a point off fourth.

Solskjaer still feels United need to win their remaining five matches to secure a top-four finish, however, with their final game a potentially vital showdown with Leicester at the King Power Stadium.

"I think so, yes, you never know what's going to happen but it looks like teams around are playing well," he added.

"There are so many games, if you win every single one, we're in the top four. We cannot rely on help from anyone else, have to do it ourselves and go into next season we can put other challenges into teams."

Already rivals on the field, Manchester United and Manchester City might be set to clash off it.

Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Milan Skriniar of Inter are both reportedly wanted in Manchester.

An off-season battle may therefore be set to take place between the two foes.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED, CITY EYEING DEFENDERS

Manchester United and neighbours Manchester City are going head-to-head for centre-backs, according to the Independent.

United and City are both reportedly eyeing defensive reinforcements as they look to catch Premier League champions Liverpool next season.

Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly and Inter defender Milan Skriniar – also wanted by Real Madrid – have been strongly linked to the Manchester clubs.

 

ROUND-UP

Ralf Rangnick has agreed a deal to become the head coach of Milan in 2020-21, says The Guardian. Rangnick will replace Stefano Pioli, who was only appointed in October. The German is also set to hold talks about combining the coaching role with that of sporting director – a position held by Milan great Paolo Maldini.

- Qualifying for the Champions League will be the first step of any deal to bring Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho to United, reports the Evening Standard. Sancho has been linked to Liverpool, Chelsea and Madrid.

- According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Paris Saint-Germain are poised to make an €80million offer for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The Ligue 1 champions, however, are wary of competition from United, Madrid and Chelsea.

Kai Havertz is aware of interest from Chelsea but the Premier League side are yet to make an offer for the Bayer Leverkusen star, claims Bild's Christian Falk. Liverpool, United, Madrid, Bayern Munich and Barcelona have also emerged as possible destinations.

Juventus, Inter and Atletico Madrid are eyeing Arsenal forward Alexandre Lacazette, according to L'Equipe.

- A cross-town move? Gianluca Di Marzio says Inter are continuing to pursue Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

Nathan Ake to United? The Daily Mail claims Bournemouth could be forced to sell some of their stars as they battle to avoid relegation. The defender has previously been linked to City.

Juve are interested in Arkadiusz Milik but Napoli would prefer not to sell to their Serie A rivals, reports Calciomercato. Napoli are said to be prepared to move Milik abroad amid links to Atletico and Tottenham.

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.

Juventus are reportedly lining up an incredible move for Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola has been in charge of City since 2016 and is contracted to remain at the helm of the Premier League champions until the end of next season.

However, Juve seemingly have other ideas.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS PLAN TO MAKE MOVE FOR GUARDIOLA

Juventus will give Guardiola whatever it takes to join them ahead of the 2020-21 campaign, according to The Sun.

The Serie A giants were linked with a stunning move for the Spaniard last year, but did not get their man.

Guardiola apparently intends to honour his contract at City, but Juve are prepared to give him whatever he wants.

ROUND-UP

- Philippe Coutinho has no plans to return to Barcelona and wants to make his move to Bayern Munich permanent, according to Catalunya Radio. The Bundesliga club hold an option to buy the attacker, but are reportedly yet to make a decision over whether they will make the move permanent.

- Barcelona are not yet giving up on signing Willian Jose from Real Sociedad. Marca reports the LaLiga giants are still considering the attacker amid a negotiable price despite Willian Jose's buyout clause being set at €70million.

- Jose Mourinho is planning for next season at Tottenham. The Daily Express reports the Spurs head coach is looking to spend £120m on defenders ahead of 2020-21, with Benfica's Ruben Dias and Bournemouth's Nathan Ake leading the list of targets.

- Liverpool tried to sign Villarreal attacker Samuel Chukwueze during January, according to France Football, which reports the European champions offered £29.6m (€35m) for the Nigeria international. Staying at Anfield and the Daily Express says Liverpool are set to offer 18-year-old full-back Neco Williams a new contract.

- Amid surprise reports Barcelona tried to bring Andres Iniesta back to Camp Nou in January, Marca says the LaLiga club's sporting management never considered a return to the club for the Vissel Kobe midfielder.

- Inter are set to decide in the next 48 hours whether to sign goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano after the 34-year-old completed medicals at the Serie A high-flyers, according to CalcioMercato. Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic suffered a finger injury last week.

While Liverpool extended their lead at the top of the Premier League to record-breaking levels with an easy win over Southampton, the battle beneath them for places in the top four heated up.

The Reds thumped the Saints 4-0 at Anfield to open up a 22-point gap over Manchester City - the biggest lead any team has ever held at the top of the English top-flight - and Pep Guardiola's men lost 2-0 in a chaotic game at Tottenham a day later.

Fourth-placed Chelsea looked set to narrow the gap to Leicester City above them when they took the lead at King Power Stadium but the Foxes fought back in a 2-2 draw, while Sheffield United briefly moved up to fifth before Spurs' win after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

Two sides just outside the European qualification places, Manchester United and Wolves played out a goalless draw at Old Trafford but there was no shortage of goals at West Ham or Watford.

The weekend's Opta data tells the story of 15 goals across four of the most entertaining clashes of matchweek 25, with fortunes affected at both ends of the table.

BUTTERFINGERED FOXES FRITTER LEAD AGAINST BLUES

Leicester City came from behind to lead 2-1 against Chelsea but the trend that has seen them regularly drop from winning positions continued.

Antonio Rudiger, who opened the scoring after 46 minutes, became the first defender to score twice for Chelsea in a Premier League match since John Terry against Fulham in April 2013 to ensure the points were shared.

Leicester have dropped eight points from winning positions in their last four league outings, more than they had in their previous 59 matches since the start of the 2018-19 campaign (six).

Chelsea have failed to win six of the games in which they have scored the first goal this season (D5 L1), pegged back as they were by Harvey Barnes' third goal in three league games and Ben Chilwell's 64th-minute strike.

Those goals took the Blues' tally of goals conceded on the road to 22 in 13 games, and manager Frank Lampard must address his side's defensive frailties if they are to keep their place in the Premier League top four.

CHERRIES EXPLOIT VILLA'S PROBLEMS ON THE ROAD

Back-to-back victories have moved Bournemouth up to 16th and they leapfrogged Aston Villa after beating Dean Smith's men 2-1 at Vitality Stadium.

Prior to their wins over Brighton and Hove Albion and Villa, the Cherries had only won two of their previous 17 Premier League matches but Eddie Howe's side took advantage of a defence that does not travel well to make it two wins from two.

Villa are the only side in the division yet to register a clean sheet away from home this season and they fell behind when Phillip Billing scored his first league goal for Bournemouth in his 23rd appearance for the club.

Nathan Ake extended Bournemouth's lead before Mbwana Samatta scored Villa's first headed Premier League goal in almost four years.

The consolation strike came on Samatta's league debut, making the Tanzanian attacker Villa's first first player to score on his league bow since Rudy Gestede scored against Bournemouth in August 2015.

JOY OF SIX FOR MOURINHO AFTER BERGWIJN'S DEBUT DELIGHT

Jose Mourinho enjoyed his sixth victory over Pep Guardiola after goals from Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min helped Tottenham beat the champions at home.

Mourinho has now beaten Guardiola's sides with Inter, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Spurs, with Sunday's victory Tottenham's first over City in the Premier League since they won by the same scoreline in October 2016.

City had Oleksandr Zinchenko sent off as they slipped to a sixth Premier League defeat of the season - their joint-most in a single campaign under Guardiola (six in 2016-17).

Bergwijn became the Premier League's 13th Dutchman to score on his debut and the competition's 250th player to do so, before Son scored his fifth goal against City in all competitions since the start of 2016-17 - only Jamie Vardy (six) has scored more against them in that period.

 

HAMMERS IN THE DROP ZONE AFTER POINTS SHARED IN THRILLER

West Ham were 2-0 up at half-time against Brighton but left London Stadium still winless in the Premier League against the Seagulls, who fought back to draw 3-3.

The Hammers have drawn three and lost three of their six Premier League clashes with Brighton and this was not the first time they have dropped points from a winning position this season.

In fact, David Moyes' team have lost more points from winning positions than any other top-flight team this season (19) but the last time they failed to win a game in which they led by two goals was back in October 2017 when they drew 2-2 with Crystal Palace.

Brighton have avoided defeat after trailing by two goals on three occasions, the first two coming in September 2018 when they drew 2-2 with Fulham and Southampton.

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.

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