Manchester United are making plans for Paul Pogba's departure and may have already identified the Frenchman's replacement in Real Madrid's Federico Valverde.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries this season, while veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been in vintage form for LaLiga's champions.

Valverde has only started 12 games in all competitions this season, but the Uruguayan has impressed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enough for United to step up their efforts to bring him to Old Trafford this off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE VALVERDE TO PLUG MIDFIELD

Valverde has shown his class while featuring in 89 games during his three seasons in the Spanish capital and has turned heads at United.

The Red Devils are said to admire his energy and box-to-box qualities as they seek a long-term solution to lock down a place in the centre of Solskjaer's midfield, according to The Sun.

One snag in the recruitment drive could be the Uruguay international's buy-out clause of a staggering £148million, though United can offer him a major improvement on his current £120,000 per week wage.

Gerard Pique is in contention to face Paris Saint-Germain after being named in the Barcelona matchday squad.

Barca host PSG at Camp Nou on Tuesday as their huge Champions League last-16 tie gets under way.

Pique has not played for almost three months since being replaced in the November 21 defeat to Atletico Madrid in LaLiga.

He suffered a sprain to his right knee and partial damage to his anterior cruciate ligament.

But the defender has been named in a 21-man squad on the morning of the game, from which head coach Ronald Koeman will pick his team.

Barca followed the announcement with an excited tweet declaring Pique "is back".

As well as Pique, forward Martin Braithwaite is included after being medically cleared.

Ronald Araujo is still out, so the potential involvement of Pique alongside Clement Lenglet at centre-back will come as a big boost to Barcelona.

While former Barca star Neymar is ruled out, PSG still boast a host of attacking talent including Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and in-form Moise Kean.

With Lionel Messi's future far from certain at the end of the season, his former team-mate Neymar has apparently reached out to the Barcelona captain about a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazilian superstar Neymar played alongside the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for four LaLiga seasons between 2013 and 2017, before sealing a world-record transfer to Ligue 1 giants

It is understood Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are ready to make a play to bring Messi to the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino's PSG appear to be taking the direct approach.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PUTS IN A CALL TO MESSI

Lionel Messi's contract at his boyhood club expires in the off-season, less than a year after the Barcelona superstar sensationally tried to leave Camp Nou but found his exit plans blocked.

According to L'Equipe, Neymar – who is set to miss the Champions League trip to the Barcelona on Tuesday – has put in a call to convince Messi to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi will lead out Barca in the first leg of the last-16 tie, having stated he will wait until the end of the current campaign before making a decision on where he will play in 2021-2022.

ROUND-UP

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe has decided to stay put this off-season but is not planning on extending his current contract, which expires in 2022, claims ESPN.

Liverpool are looking for defensive reinforcements and they are monitoring Aston Villa's England Under-21 international Ezri Konsa, according to The Athletic.

- Bayern Munich's free-agent defender David Alaba has already agreed to join Real Madrid at season's end, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Lionel Messi has proven with his recent form that he is committed to Barcelona despite significant uncertainty surrounding his future and links to Tuesday's Champions League opponents Paris Saint-Germain, according to Jordi Alba.

Messi rocked world football in pre-season when declaring his desire to leave Barcelona after spending his entire professional career at Camp Nou.

The Argentina international had grown disillusioned with the state of the club under previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom Messi subsequently accused of reneging on an agreement to let him leave on a free transfer.

Messi ultimately decided to stay put, uncomfortable with the idea of dragging Barca through the courts, leaving the possibility for him to depart at the end of his contract in 2021.

While Barca have made no secret of their desire to renew his deal, a situation that is dominating the lead-up to next month's presidential election, PSG are apparently eager to bring Messi to France and even some of their players have openly addressed the prospect.

With PSG up next on Tuesday, attentions understandably turned to Messi's future in the pre-match news conference, and Alba insisted his illustrious team-mate had shown his professionalism with his haul of nine goals in as many games.

"The decision he makes will be well thought out and well-considered," Alba said. "I have said many times that I am a better player on the field when he is on the field.

"It is his decision and it will have to be respected whatever he makes, but now his thoughts are at Barca and you see that in every game.

"Even if he had decided, he wouldn't say whether he is going to stay. He already said before what intention he had.

"Today he is 100 per cent committed. From here, hopefully we can win a title and let him decide at the end of the season.

"What other players or other clubs say, we do not pay attention to in the dressing room. Leo will have the last word."

Ronald Koeman, who addressed the media after Alba, was a little less willing to discuss Messi, yet he reiterated he is optimistic Barca's captain will remain with them after the end of the 2020-21 campaign.

"I don't know if it was the intention from [the media] to talk a lot about Messi, my idea is to prepare the team and the players for an important game," he said.

"Messi is a Barca player and I have high hopes that he will continue to be a Barca player."

Paris Saint-Germain moved to the Ligue 1 summit as Moise Kean's late goal sealed a 2-1 win over Nice at the Parc des Princes on Saturday. 

Mauricio Pochettino was without the services of Neymar, who is out for a month after suffering an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen in midweek, but the champions had just enough to seal a sixth consecutive top-flight home win. 

Rony Lopes cancelled out Draxler's 22nd-minute opener early in the second half, but Kean – who scored the winner against Caen – secured maximum points 14 minutes from time. 

The result meant PSG – who visit Barcelona for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday – leapfrogged Lille at the top of Ligue 1 courtesy of a superior goal difference, although Christophe Galtier's side can reclaim top spot with a point against Brest on Sunday.

The hosts deservedly went ahead midway through the first half when Draxler prodded home his third goal of the season from eight yards after Mauro Icardi's close-range effort had cannoned back off the post. 

Kylian Mbappe should have doubled PSG's advantage shortly before the interval, the France international failing to make contact with Icardi's cross from six yards, while Amine Gouiri thundered over a presentable opportunity at the other end.

Nice pulled level five minutes after the break when Marquinhos' attempted clearance went as far as Lopes, who drove into the penalty area and unleashed a powerful drive that gave Keylor Navas no chance. 

Mbappe fizzed a strike just wide soon after following a swift counter-attacking move, while Gouiri crashed against the crossbar from close range as Nice threatened to pull ahead. 

Kean stretched PSG's unbeaten run at home to Nice to 10 games in the 76th minute, though, heading in from four yards after Icardi had steered Mbappe's cross into his path.

 

Paris Saint-Germain will focus on helping Neymar recover emotionally from his latest injury setback, said Mauricio Pochettino, who is confident they have the squad to win without him.

Neymar was ruled out for up to four weeks after suffering an adductor injury in PSG's Coupe de France clash with Caen on Wednesday.

He will miss Tuesday's trip to Camp Nou to face his former club Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash.

The timeline also puts him in doubt for the return leg at the Parc des Princes on March 10.

Neymar spoke of his immense sadness in an Instagram following news of his injury.

And asked about the Brazil forward ahead of their Ligue 1 clash with Nice, PSG boss Pochettino said: "We have been speaking since the injury happened and, with the tests that he had yesterday, he has made his sadness and pain public.

"We are all going to help him get back as quickly as possible. And also help him recover in terms of his emotional state because it has been a tough blow for him.

"He is a tough guy and he is very mature. We have got to know him here to see what a great person he is, not just an athlete, but an extraordinary person who builds good relationships and is very likeable."

Pochettino brushed off talk of him taking an unnecessary risk by playing Neymar against Caen with Barca on the horizon.

"We are here to manage a squad of players and we make decisions that we think are for the best," explained Pochettino. 

"We make decisions together and try to apply that all the time. A player got injured and that can happen. That can happen in the Coupe de France, in training, in the league, in the Champions League.

"It is a shame that he got injured, but these things happen in football.

"We cannot look back. We have key players injured and we have to look for solutions, while also knowing that we have a squad that can still handle that and play well in these fixtures.

"Whether it is Ligue 1 or the Champions League, I have total confidence in the squad, and they are PSG players for a reason. So we are going to try to go into every game to win without any excuses."

Neymar will miss Paris Saint-Germain's trip to former club Barcelona in the Champions League after being ruled out for up to four weeks.

The Ligue 1 club, who head to Camp Nou next Tuesday, confirmed the Brazilian had suffered an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen on Wednesday.

The estimated recovery time would also put Neymar in doubt for the return leg of the last-16 clash with Barca, which takes place on March 10.

Neymar suffered the injury around the hour mark of the 1-0 win, with the 29-year-old clutching at his groin.

Though team-mate and midweek match-winner Moise Kean told Eurosport afterwards that "all is well", head coach Mauricio Pochettino was less optimistic.

"His left adductor muscle is affected and they will examine him to see what type of injury he has," he said.

"The reality is that we do not know the extent of the injury, tomorrow we will know more."

Sure enough, a PSG statement released on Thursday confirmed a notable setback for Neymar.

suffered a lesion to the left adductor on Wednesday evening," it read.

"After analysis of clinical exams and scans, it is expected that he'll be out for around four weeks depending on the evolution of the injury."

Neymar has often suffered untimely injuries at a similar time in previous seasons during his stint at PSG.

In 2018, Neymar sustained a broken toe in February, meaning he missed almost three months of action, with PSG losing 5-2 on aggregate to eventual Champions League winners Real Madrid in the last 16 in his absence.

An ankle injury then kept him out from January to April in 2019, with PSG going out at the hands of Manchester United, though he was fit to help the Parisians overcome Borussia Dortmund in last season's tournament, prior to the coronavirus-enforced suspension.

PSG went on to lose in the final to Bayern Munich, though Neymar has lifted the trophy before, having scored in a 3-1 win over Juventus in the 2015 showpiece.

Neymar will miss Paris Saint-Germain's trip to former club Barcelona in the Champions League after being ruled out for up to four weeks.

The Ligue 1 club, who head to Camp Nou next Tuesday, confirmed the Brazilian had suffered an adductor injury in the Coupe de France win over Caen on Wednesday.

The estimated recovery time would also put Neymar in doubt for the return leg of the last-16 clash with Barca, which takes place on March 10.

Moise Kean scored the only goal as Paris Saint-Germain beat Caen 1-0 in their Coupe de France round-of-64 clash at Stade Michel d'Ornano on Wednesday. 

The holders – who have won the competition a record 13 times – were poor in the first half and went in at the break having had just one shot on target. 

Mauricio Pochettino's side came out for the second period with renewed purpose, though, and broke the deadlock soon after thanks to on-loan Everton striker Kean's 12th goal of the season in all competitions. 

Caleb Sery squandered a golden opportunity to equalise late on, but PSG ultimately held firm to extend their unbeaten run against Caen to 18 matches with the minimum of fuss.

The hosts twice went close inside the opening five minutes, Sergio Rico pawing over Aliou Traore's fierce strike from distance and Hugo Vandermersch missing the target with a free header inside the six-yard box.

Julian Draxler headed wide from Neymar's lofted ball over the top in the 42nd minute, but PSG – sorely lacking the pace of Kylian Mbappe in the first half – were unable to find an opener before the interval.

Pochettino's men were a lot sharper after the restart and went ahead after 49 minutes, Kean diverting Neymar's left-wing cross past Sullivan Pean.

Pean superbly denied Kean a second three minutes later, getting a strong hand to the Italian's powerful drive after he had been played in by Leandro Paredes.

PSG handed a debut to highly rated former Barcelona youngster Xavi Simon with 12 minutes remaining, while the Ligue 1 champions were lucky not to concede in the closing stages as Sery inexplicably fired wide from 10 yards.

Manchester City will need to take their search for a new striker elsewhere with top transfer target Lautaro Martinez set to snub the Premier League giants.

Pep Guardiola had reportedly lined up the Argentina international as the long-term replacement for club legend Sergio Aguero.

But Martinez is on the brink of a sensational U-turn to remain in Serie A to the delight of coach Antonio Conte and the Milan-based club.


TOP STORY – LAUTARO SET TO REJECT CITY AND STAY WITH INTER

Eurosport reports that City's pursuit of their player at the top of their shopping list has come to an abrupt end with Martinez set to sign a new deal with Inter.

The report suggests the 21-cap international will double his money to stay in Italy, dealing a blow to City after they have monitored his situation closely for a year.

While City continue to prepare an offer for Lionel Messi should he decide to leave Barcelona, they are also set to turn their attentions to Dortmund striker Erling Haaland. 

Mauricio Pochettino urged people not to mistake France Football for Paris Saint-Germain amid continued talk of Lionel Messi moving to the Parc des Princes.

Messi, who attempted to force a switch from Barcelona prior to this season, is due to be out of contract at Camp Nou at the end of the campaign.

He has been frequently linked with PSG and the latest edition of France Football magazine ratcheted up the speculation, as the cover of the magazine featured Messi mocked up wearing a PSG shirt.

That will do little to improve the mood in the Barcelona camp, with head coach Ronald Koeman having previously accused PSG midfielder Angel Di Maria of disrespect.

Koeman's comments followed Messi's Argentina team-mate Di Maria saying there is a "big chance" the six-time Ballon d'Or winner will join PSG.

Pochettino was again asked about Messi prior to PSG's Coupe de France tie at Caen, which takes place on Wednesday.

The PSG head coach told a pre-match media conference: "I think we are talking about a magazine that has nothing to do with Paris Saint-Germain.

"When a player speaks, he might speak with emotion and affection, but there is no type of controversial situation here that we have thought up at the club.

"At no point has there been a lack of perspective. At no point has anything happened that is incorrect.

"I understand that players can talk and say whatever they like and that goes for Barcelona, Real Madrid. They might talk about fellow footballers at other clubs.

"Here we have total respect for every club and every player. We must not confuse what was said in France Football with PSG itself."

Ander Herrera does not believe it is possible for Paris Saint-Germain to add Lionel Messi to an all-star attack that already includes Neymar and Kylian Mbappe due to Financial Fair Play reasons.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi is out of contract with Barcelona at the end of the season and has been strongly linked with French champions PSG and Premier League leaders Manchester City.

PSG already have superstar forwards Neymar and Mbappe on their books, with the Ligue 1 giants in talks over extending both players' lucrative contracts beyond the end of the 2021-22 season.

However, as rumours persist over a possible end-of-season switch to the Parc des Princes for Messi, who saw details of his five-year contract made public last week, Herrera has cast doubt over whether a move is feasible for his side.

"Messi, Neymar and Mbappe together? I don't know how that would work with Financial Fair Play, but I don't think so," he told El Larguero. 

Former Manchester United midfielder Herrera was unwilling to discuss the transfer rumours in any further detail, though, out of respect for Barcelona.

"I'm not going to get into this one," he said. "When everyone at Barca was talking about Neymar, inside and outside the club, we did not like it.

"I'm not going to do something that I don't like being done to me. I have a lot of respect for Barca, Messi, his coach and his team-mates.

"It is not a strategy. Me, I will not speak about him. I respect those who do it, but I put myself in the shoes of the club in which Messi has evolved."

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman last week accused PSG of being "disrespectful" for continuing to discuss Messi in public after Angel Di Maria encouraged talk of a high-profile transfer going through.

Herrera added: "If I were I at Barca, I would not like people talking about Messi. It does not seem to me to be a lack of respect, but I will not do it."

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are still eyeing Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Unsurprisingly, Messi's future remains a talking point with his contract with the LaLiga giants expiring at the end of the season.

And the two clubs most strongly linked with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner remain interested.

 

TOP STORY – PSG, MAN CITY STILL EYEING MESSI

Paris Saint-Germain are quietly continuing their push to sign Barcelona star Lionel   Messi , according to France Football.

The Ligue 1 giants have angered Barca boss Ronald Koeman as those connected with PSG have regularly discussed Messi.

ESPN says Manchester City are also still tracking Messi, but will wait until March or April before making more of a move.

ROUND-UP

- Out of contract at Real Madrid in 2022, Raphael Varane 's future is unclear. Marca reports the LaLiga giants suspect the defender will not renew and they could sell him for €50million at the end of this season as a result, with PSG and Manchester United interested.

- Madrid are favourites to land Bayern Munich star David Alaba . The Telegraph reports Alaba's wage demands, believed to be around £20m per year, are too high for Chelsea . Alaba is set to leave the Bundesliga giants when his contract expires at the end of the season.

- United 's sights may be elsewhere. The Independent claims RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate is their main centre-back target ahead of 2021-22. Konate has also been linked to Liverpool and Chelsea .

- Arsenal want a young left-back to learn from Kieran Tierney, according to The Athletic.

Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti said he is excited about the prospect of playing alongside Lionel Messi at the Ligue 1 champions.

Barcelona superstar Messi is out of contract at season's end and the six-time Ballon d'Or winner has been heavily linked with PSG and Premier League giants Manchester City.

As Messi's future dominates headlines, PSG star Verratti discussed his possible arrival in Paris.

"Of course, I would like to play with Messi," Italy international Verratti told Canal+.

"To have him in the squad would be something magnificent, one more thing that football would give to me.

"I would give the ball to Neymar and Messi and stay behind to just [enjoy] watching them a bit."

PSG and Barcelona will meet in the Champions League last 16, with the first leg taking place at Camp Nou on February 16.

It will be a reunion for former Barca star Neymar, who has scored six goals in 11 Ligue 1 matches this season.

Neymar - who left Barca in a world-record €222million deal in 2017 - has scored 13 goals across all competitions.

"We are not stupid, we know that he is the best player and our role is to put him in the best possible condition," Verratti said. 

"He knows that when I have the ball, I'm looking for him. He always makes movements to receive the ball well."

Mauricio Pochettino's PSG are third in Ligue 1 after 24 rounds, three points adrift of leaders Lille following Sunday's 2-0 Classique victory against Marseille.

PSG face Caen in the Coupe de France on Wednesday before welcoming Nice to the French capital in Ligue 1 action on Saturday.

Neymar climbed off his sick bed to help Paris Saint-Germain see out a 2-0 win at Marseille in the 100th Classique on Sunday.

Superstar forward Neymar was sent off in the reverse fixture and started from the bench after missing training this week with gastroenteritis, while Angel Di Maria departed early through injury at the Stade Velodrome, but Marseille could not capitalise.

First-half goals from Kylian Mbappe and Mauro Icardi instead secured a commanding position against Ligue 1's crisis club, whose troubles are best illustrated by coach Andre Villas-Boas' suspension after offering his resignation.

It meant Neymar could be introduced with little risk of a repeat of the home defeat early in the season and the world's most expensive footballer duly provided a spark that pegged OM back – their frustration evident as Dimitri Payet was sent off – to secure victory and keep PSG within three points of leaders Lille.

Neymar's absence was not felt in a trademark PSG counter-attack after nine minutes when Mbappe skipped beyond Hiroki Sakai's desperate lunge and slid a cool finish under Steve Mandanda.

Di Maria appeared to hurt himself in finding Mbappe and was promptly replaced, although Neymar remained among the substitutes and some slack play at the back ensured a fizzing Pape Gueye drive had to be tipped over.

PSG were ruthless at the other end and Icardi's cute header earned a helpful touch from Alvaro Gonzalez as it looped over the static Mandanda, who might have conceded a third time before the break as Leandro Paredes thundered in an effort that kissed the outside of the post.

Marseille were better after the break and Boubacar Kamara's shot squirmed away from Sergio Rico and wide, but further chances were few and far between.

Neymar was belatedly introduced 25 minutes from time and should have immediately won a penalty, with Alvaro granted a fortunate escape following his clumsy challenge inside the area.

Marseille spent the remaining minutes on the back foot as Neymar found his groove, missing only a finish as he sought the third, before Payet's high boot on Marco Verratti was punished with a late red card.

 

What does it mean? No drama and PSG stay in the hunt

There were five red cards – three for PSG – when the sides met at the Parc des Princes in September in a game that contributed to the chaos of the champions' season to date, going some way to explain their underwhelming league position.

Although there was bite in Sunday's encounter, too, as the two teams shared 24 fouls and Payet was dismissed, the early Mbappe goal made sure there was no unnecessary drama this time, keeping the pressure on Lille and Lyon.

Mauro makes his mark

Only three times in the league this season have PSG started with Neymar, Mbappe, Di Maria and Icardi all in the XI as Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino have each struggled to fit the attacking quartet into the same line-up – while also dealing with illness, injuries and suspensions.

Icardi has been restricted to just seven starts, but he showed here what he is all about. Along with a fifth goal of the campaign from his only attempt, the striker used his physicality at both ends of the field, winning his four aerial duels and making three clearances before making way for Neymar.

Alvaro out of his depth

The subject of some scrutiny following a clash with Neymar in Paris, Alvaro was at the centre of the action again in the return fixture and did not fare well.

The centre-back struggled to contain Icardi and got a touch as the second goal deceived Mandanda, before he somehow avoided a penalty for tripping Neymar, then hobbled off having succeeded in only a single duel and failed to make a tackle.

What's next?

PSG's title tilt goes on hold this week as they go to Caen on Wednesday in the Coupe de France, the same competition in which Marseille will visit Auxerre hours earlier.

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