Manchester United have exposed the stark levels of abuse aimed at their players ahead of a four-day social media boycott.

Football clubs and players all over England will be joined in the action, which runs from 1500 BST on Friday until 2359 BST on Monday, by UEFA and major bodies across cricket, rugby union, tennis, rugby league and other sports.

The move follows an increase in online abuse aimed at sportspeople, with United's research offering a glimpse at how bad the problem is.

United revealed a 350 per cent increase in abuse directed towards their players since September 2019, with 86 per cent of 3,300 abusive posts categorised as being racist in nature.

A further eight per cent were deemed homophobic or transphobic.

"It must be said that while these numbers are shocking, they do only represent a 0.01 per cent of conversations that take place on social media about the club and the players," said group managing director Richard Arnold.

"By taking part in this boycott this weekend, we, alongside the rest of English football, want to shine a light on the issue. It will generate debate and discussion and will raise awareness of the levels of abuse our players and our fans receive."

An announcement of the boycott came jointly last Saturday from numerous organisations in football, including the Premier League, the English Football League, the Football Association, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship.

"While some progress has been made, we reiterate those requests today in an effort to stem the relentless flow of discriminatory messages and ensure that there are real-life consequences for purveyors of online abuse across all platforms," the groups said in a release.

"Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight."

Since that statement was released, other bodies have declared they will join the boycott from across various sports, with cycling, horseracing and hockey also on board.

Football's European governing body, UEFA, also pledged its support in a strongly worded statement from president Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday.

"We've had enough of these cowards who hide behind their anonymity to spew out their noxious ideologies," he said.

The move instigated by England's footballing bodies follows them sending a letter to social media companies in February, urging them to take numerous steps to take down online abuse, including quick removal of offensive posts and an improved verification process.

Some within the game have already taken individual action to protest, with Thierry Henry withdrawing from all social media platforms until the issue is appropriately addressed.

Henry's stance came after a spate of incidents of vile abuse being aimed at sportspeople online.

Chelsea put out a statement in January after Reece James was targeted, saying: "Something needs to change and it needs to change now."

Manchester United duo Anthony Martial and Axel Tuanzebe were also racially abused online after the side's loss to Sheffield United, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calling for stronger intervention from social media platforms.

The Premier League elite are playing for prizes, along with Champions League and Europa League places, and at the foot of the table there may still be dreams of a great escape.

Reality brings its rewards and regrets, and managers across England, from Pep Guardiola to Big Sam Allardyce are hoping to end the season on a high note.

For fantasy football managers, the same applies. This is the run-in and the time when marginal gains could count for so much in your own rivalries and leagues come the season's end. One masterstroke signing could make a world of difference and earn those bragging rights.

With that in mind, here is a look at some potentially shrewd picks for the weekend ahead, powered by Opta data.

EDOUARD MENDY

Chelsea goalkeeper Mendy has a long way to go before he can be defined as a Premier League great, but the September arrival from Rennes is making a terrific impact in his debut season. Heading into Saturday's derby with Fulham, Mendy has managed 15 clean sheets from his 27 Premier League games so far, with only Manchester City's Ederson keeping more (17 from 32 games).

Of all goalkeepers to have started at least 25 games in Premier League history, Mendy is the only one to keep a clean sheet in more than half of them (56 per cent). Looking down the list, Ederson has an impressive 49 per cent from 141 games, while former Chelsea and Arsenal shot-stopper Petr Cech had a nifty 46 per cent clean sheet record from 443 appearances.

LUKE SHAW

Tough love did not particularly work for Luke Shaw during Jose Mourinho's reign, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found a way to unlock the brilliance within Manchester United's left-back, who was a £30million buy as an 18-year-old almost seven years ago.

Shaw, who looks likely to face Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, has been directly involved in six goals (1 goal, 5 assists) in the Premier League this season. That is as many as he managed between the start of the 2016-17 season and the end of the 2019-20 campaign (also 1 goal, 5 assists). He is impressing going forward as well as when defending, so could bring valuable points to your team.

RUBEN DIAS

No Premier League defender has more clean sheets than Ruben Dias this season. With 14 so far, he is level with Aston Villa's Matt Targett. Manchester City stifled Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar and Kylian Mbappe on Wednesday, but can they keep Crystal Palace's forwards at bay on Saturday?

The Premier League title is almost within City's grasp, and Dias could be a great signing this weekend, but do bear in mind that Guardiola could shuffle his team given the second leg with PSG is coming up on Tuesday.

City have a strong Premier League record against Palace, having won 13 of their last 17 matches (D2 L2) against the Eagles in the competition, earning 10 clean sheets across that run of games.

MATHEUS PEREIRA

Going down with the Baggies? Even if West Brom are relegated, which seems likely, there will surely be top-flight teams eyeing Matheus Pereira.

The Brazilian has been involved in six goals in his last four Premier League games (4 goals, 2 assists), and he enhanced his hero status among supporters when he scored twice - both penalties - in the derby against Wolves earlier this season.

West Brom won that one 3-2 and the teams meet again on Monday. Pereira is a player to keep an eye on in that game.

RAHEEM STERLING

Guardiola rhapsodised about Sterling after Manchester City's win against Tottenham in the EFL Cup final, despite erratic finishing meaning the winger again finished without a goal. He has not scored for City since February, but one could spark a flood, such is his established talent.

Facing Palace could be the ideal game for Sterling, should he be selected this weekend.

The England international has been involved in seven goals in his last seven starts against Palace in the Premier League (6 goals, 1 assist).

AYOZE PEREZ

Kelechi Iheanacho is the striker in form at Leicester City, but in horses for courses terms, Perez might be the man for Friday's clash with Southampton.

Perez has scored more Premier League goals against Southampton than he has against any other side in the competition (7). This includes two hat-tricks against Saints, including one in Leicester’s 9-0 win in this fixture last season.

HARRY KANE

Did Kane look off the pace in the EFL Cup final after his recent ankle knock? It was so hard to tell, given it felt he was constantly having to come looking for the ball, the service to him so inadequate.

If caretaker boss Ryan Mason considered him fit for that one, then it seems safe to expect the Tottenham talisman to face Sheffield United on Sunday, and surely he will find more opportunities against the blunted Blades than he enjoyed against City.

Kane has been involved in 34 goals in 30 Premier League games for Tottenham this season (21 goals, 13 assists), only registering more goal involvements in a single campaign in 2016-17 (36 – 29G 7A). The England striker has been involved in nine goals in his last six league games (7 goals, 2 assists), netting three braces in that run.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it was a "good job done" rather than job done after Manchester United thrashed Roma 6-2 in the Europa League semi-finals.

Bruno Fernandes gave the Red Devils an early lead in a dramatic first leg at Old Trafford on Thursday, but Lorenzo Pellegrini's penalty and a goal from Edin Dzeko put Roma 2-1 up at half-time.

The luckless Giallorossi lost three players to injury in the first half - including goalkeeper Pau Lopez - and they were torn apart by a rampant United after the break.

A brace from the magnificent Edinson Cavani put the Premier League side back in front and Fernandes had a double of his own when he made no mistake from the penalty spot.

Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood added further goals to put United on the brink of a final against either Villarreal or Arsenal in Gdansk on May 26.

Ruthless United scored six or more goals in a single match in European competition for the first time since netting seven against Roma in April 2007; they are also the first side to net as many in a major European semi-final since Real Madrid in the European Cup in May 1964.

Still, Solskjaer says there is no chance they will be complacent heading into the second leg at Stadio Olimpico next Thursday.

The Red Devils boss told BT Sport: "No I don't feel the job is done but it was a good job done. We did well but we know they have quality.

"They scored two goals from the two chances we gave them. They didn't have loads of chances against Ajax. The second half was very good."

Solskjaer was impressed with the way his side stormed back after surrendering a first-half advantage.

"We took most of our chances today, so we're very pleased. The character showed – we came back, we didn't lose our heads," he added.

"For five, 10 minutes at the end of the first half we didn't look great, but we got it together."

Roma were unable to make any further changes in the second half after losing Jordan Veretout, Lopez and Leonardo Spinazzola in the opening 45 minutes.

Under-pressure coach Paulo Fonseca rued their misfortune but was at a loss to explain such an astonishing second-half capitulation.

He told Sky Sport "It's difficult to explain how the same team that did so well in the first half had that kind of second half. It's hard to play against a side like United without having the substitutions.

"It's positive to reach this stage of the competition anyway, and also to play like we did in the first half. But in the second half we got everything wrong."

Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes both scored twice as Manchester United thrashed Roma 6-2 in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.

Fernandes opened the scoring in a thriller at Old Trafford on Thursday, but Roma led 2-1 at half-time despite losing three players due to injury – including goalkeeper Pau Lopez.

Lorenzo Pellegrini equalised with a controversial penalty and Edin Dzeko put the Serie A side in front, but the Red Devils stormed back in stunning fashion in the second half.

The magnificent Cavani struck twice and Fernandes sealed a brace of his own with another questionable spot-kick before Paul Pogba – who gave away that harsh first-half penalty – added a fifth.

Mason Greenwood had the final say to put United firmly on course for the final ahead of the second leg at Stadio Olimpico in seven days' time.

The Giallorossi lost Jordan Veretout to a hamstring injury early on, Gonzalo Villar replacing him in midfield, and they suffered another blow when Fernandes opening the scoring with a superbly worked goal in the ninth minute.

Pogba turned sharply and burst forward before finding Cavani, whose clever first-time pass sent Fernandes through and the Portugal midfielder calmly lifted the ball over goalkeeper Lopez and into the net.

Roma were level six minutes later, with Pogba seemingly harshly penalised for handling when he slid in trying to block a cross and Pellegrini made no mistake from the spot.

Antonio Mirante took over in goal after Lopez injured himself saving a shot from Pogba with less than half an hour gone, but the Eternal City club were in front 33 minutes in.

Former United midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan picked out Pellegrini with a brilliant reverse pass and the captain set Dzeko up for a tap-in.

Leonardo Spinazzola became the third Roma player to make an early exit due to injury and Mirante denied Cavani when he was gifted a great opportunity by some poor defending just before the break.

Cavani showed his class to equalise a couple of minutes into the second half, though, finding the top corner with a clinical first-time finish after Fernandes played him in.

The Uruguay striker then showed his predatory instincts to put the Red Devils back in front after 64 minutes, tucking in from close range after Mirante could only palm Aaron Wan-Bissaka's shot into his path.

Fernandes gave United breathing space when he expertly converted from the penalty spot after ex-United defender Chris Smalling was contentiously adjudged to have fouled Cavani as he tried to complete a hat-trick.

The inspirational Fernandes turned provider once again for United's fifth goal, delivering a pinpoint cross for Pogba to head home and Greenwood slid in a sixth following another sublime assist from Cavani four minutes from time.

Five high-profile club executives have resigned from their roles on Premier League sub-committees following the European Super League debacle.

Stats Perform News understands Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Liverpool chairman Tom Werner have stepped down from the club broadcast advisory group, while Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck has left the audit and remuneration committee.

Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham and his Manchester City counterpart Ferran Soriano have both resigned from the club strategic advisory group.

The moves came to light just 11 days after these clubs, and Tottenham, declared on April 18 they would be joining a new Super League competition, which faced scorn before it was formally announced after news leaked out in the preceding hours.

It provoked fury, with the 'closed-shop' element of the proposed new competition set to see six of the Premier League's biggest clubs guaranteed riches far beyond those available to their domestic rivals.

Within 48 hours, the project had collapsed as the Premier League clubs withdrew, but by showing they had been willing to join in the new league, and doing so without consulting others that may be affected, domestic rivals were left incensed.

There were calls for points penalties or financial punishments to be imposed, but those now seem unlikely.

By losing their executive representation on the sub-committees, at the apparent behest of the 14 aggrieved clubs, the influence of the 'breakaway' teams is diminished for now.

It was reported by Sky News last week that Premier League chief executive Richard Masters contacted each of the affected executives and asked them to step down.

Tottenham did not have a representative on the sub-committees, ESPN reported.

United's Woodward is due to leave his Old Trafford role at the end of the year, a decision that was announced following the Super League fiasco but was said by sources not to be a consequence of that episode.

Managers including City's Pep Guardiola and Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp spoke out against the Super League concept, along with many players, fan groups, major football bodies, politicians and even royalty.

The Premier League has made no official comment on the resignations of the executives.

Old Trafford will not bring Roma many happy memories when they return for their Europa League semi-final first leg against Manchester United on Thursday.

The Giallorossi first made the trip to Manchester in April 2007, having won the home leg of their Champions League last-eight tie.

That had been the sides' first ever meeting and it remains Roma's sole win in six attempts. Three times they have lost at United and the pick of those matches, in 2006-07, saw a remarkable 7-1 humbling.

With the use of Opta data, we look back on that evening and what it meant for those involved.
 

Roma's ruins

This was a major European quarter-final and Roma were set to be far from straightforward opposition for United.

The 2-1 win for the hosts at the Stadio Olimpico meant the Red Devils would have to overturn a first-leg deficit in a continental knockout tie for the first time since 1984 (excluding qualifiers). They certainly did that.

Roma actually had a greater share of possession at Old Trafford (53.7 per cent) and only attempted two shots fewer than United, but Francesco Totti squandered 10 of their 21. He at least teed up Daniele De Rossi for an exquisite consolation.

Although the Giallorossi have since also lost 7-1 to Bayern Munich in 2014 and 6-1 to Barcelona in 2015, they had not been beaten by more than four goals in Europe prior to this match.

For United, it was their biggest European win since 1968 when Waterford United were defeated by the same scoreline. It still fell some way short of their record against foreign opposition, a 10-0 1956 demolition of Anderlecht.

Ronaldo's rise

In a breakout season, this was a breakout performance from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The winger – he was definitely still a winger at that stage – had previously failed to score in his 26 appearances in Europe's premier club competition, although he impressed in Rome in the first leg.

Goals later in the second leg changed the course of Ronaldo's Champions League career, but his early work would be alien to anyone who had only seen the superstar in action for Real Madrid or Juventus in recent seasons, prowling the final third.

As so often at that time, Ronaldo's speed and skill was key in leading United's breaks from deep. He completed eight of nine attempted dribbles in this match and a pass inside from the right found Michael Carrick for the opener.

The United number seven was involved in the third goal for Wayne Rooney, too, driving United forward again, and then put Alex Ferguson's side out of sight.

More clinical than Totti with his own 10 attempts, Ronaldo raced up the right once more to drill in the fourth before half-time, breaking his Champions League duck with the first of a record 134 goals at this level and 67 in knockout matches to date.

He never looked back and the fifth goal was his, too, toeing in Ryan Giggs' low centre to reach 20 for a season for the very first time.

Ronaldo has made that mark in every subsequent campaign and there have since been a further 36 Champions League outings with two or more goals.

Smith's swansong

As Ronaldo took centre stage, there was a final flourish for a previous quarter-final scorer. Alan Smith, a star of Leeds United's 2000-01 run, was handed a rare start.

Smith's time at Old Trafford had not panned out as planned following a controversial move, his mediocre form in front of goal contributing to Ferguson's belief the England striker would be better suited to a battling midfield role.

It was there that he suffered a career-altering leg break against Liverpool in February 2006.

As Ruud van Nistelrooy left for Madrid at the end of that season, Ferguson revealed the recovering Smith was "a player we intend to convert back to centre-forward after a spell in the midfield". But the ex-Leeds favourite found himself firmly behind Rooney, Louis Saha, Henrik Larsson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the pecking order.

By the time Smith was named in the XI – in place of now United manager Solskjaer – against Roma, he had gone 507 days without a goal.

That drought ended with a beautiful right-footed finish, a reminder of what Smith once was, to put United two up, yet this was merely a last hurrah.

Although there was a first Premier League title and an FA Cup final appearance before the end of the campaign, there were no further goals and Smith then left for Newcastle United, where he failed to score once.

When the one-time £7million man finally found the net again, playing for MK Dons in League One in April 2012, 1,838 days had passed since that special Roma strike.

Neymar's future at Paris Saint-Germain remains strangely undecided.

The 29-year-old Brazilian has said he is happy in Paris but speculation continues to bubble away.

Neymar is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly discussing a renewal with PSG until 2026.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR TEMPTED BY BARCELONA RETURN

Neymar continues to flirt privately with a return to Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Publicly, the Brazil star has declared he is happy with PSG but in no rush to re-sign, yet there are behind-the-scenes rumblings, potentially part of contract manoeuvring.

Neymar is reportedly obsessed with playing alongside Lionel Messi again at Camp Nou and continues to keep that option open.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are still in the market for a right-winger with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho top of their list, according to 90 Min.

- The Sun reports that Chelsea are preparing to launch a £90million-plus offer to bring Romelu Lukaku back to the club from Inter.

- Chelsea are also open to offers for forward Tammy Abraham this off-season, with an asking price of £40m, claims The Telegraph.

- Arsenal wants to sign Norwich City full-back Max Aarons as a replacement for Hector Bellerin, whom they are prepared to offload, reports 90 Min.

- Juventus' Turkish defender Merih Demiral is in the sights of Everton, according to Calciomercato.

- AS claims that Atletico Madrid may ask Juventus to swap Paulo Dybala as compensation to permanently sign on-loan forward Alvaro Morata.

Roma defender Chris Smalling cannot imagine a bigger game than his return to Manchester United for Thursday's Europa League semi-final first leg, although he said playing behind closed doors is disappointing.

Smalling, who only returned from a knee injury against Cagliari last week, made more than 300 appearances for United across almost a decade before initially joining Roma on loan in 2019 – a deal that became permanent the following year.

A two-time Premier League winner with United, Smalling will line up against his former team-mates in the opening leg of the final-four showdown at Old Trafford.

"It's a special game, it's a semi-final, added on top it's playing against United," former England international Smalling told reporters.

"Obviously being in Rome for nearly the last two years I know the importance of bringing home a trophy because it's been far too long.

"There are so many ingredients that I don't think there'll be a bigger game to be a part of. I'm just thankful that I'm now fit and I'm able to contribute because the whole squad needs every player."

Smalling's reunion at Old Trafford will be played without fans due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"I'd admit that's one disappointment not to have a full house and likewise to even have my friends and family watching two clubs that have been a big part of my career," Smalling said.

"That's one unfortunate thing but it doesn't take away the emotion side because it's very rare when you go onto a pitch and you know every player on the pitch.

"In such a big game as well, I think it's got all the ingredients to put on one of your best performances."

Smalling's United exit came during the early stages of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's tenure as he moved to the Italian capital on loan two years ago.

The 31-year-old Smalling said he had nothing against the Norwegian manager about his departure.

"When [Solskjaer] first came in I was injured but when I got fit he played me and we had a good relationship," Smalling added.

"We had very honest conversations in the summer but now we'll meet on the pitch and I'm really looking forward to it."

Smalling missed six weeks with the knee injury that he only returned from against Cagliari on Sunday.

"Personally I'm feeling good," he said. "It's no secret that I have missed a lot of games this season which is very unusual for me.

"But coming into this game I'm feeling fit. I'm feeling ready to contribute."

Roma will be looking for their first European victory away to English opponents since February 2001 (1-0 against Liverpool in the UEFA Cup), having failed to win any of their last 12 such games against seven different English sides (D4 L8).

Meanwhile, Roma have lost all three of their previous away games against United, conceding nine goals and scoring just once in return. This will be their first such trip since April 2008, when they lost 1-0 in a Champions League quarter-final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says it would be "a dream come true" to lift silverware as Manchester United manager, with his side preparing for a Europa League semi-final against Roma.

While Solskjaer has improved United's Premier League standing since taking charge in December 2018, he is yet to win a trophy and has been beaten in all four of the semi-finals he has reached.

That included the semi-final in the Europa League last season against eventual winners Sevilla.

United are at home for the first leg against Roma, a team they have played six times before – all in the Champions League – winning four.

One of those victories was the famous 7-1 win in the second leg of a 2007 Champions League quarter-final tie that Solskjaer played in, the spirit from which he hopes to rekindle at Old Trafford on Thursday.

"It will be a dream come true the day I can lift a trophy for this club as a manager," said Solskjaer. 

"That is what we are building for. It is ifs and buts, but our ambition is to finish this season with a trophy and to celebrate. I know what that can mean for the group."

Asked if he had conducted a detailed analysis on the previous semi-final defeats, Solskjaer added: "We have looked at them and the reasons why.

"But every semi-final is a tough one against tough teams.

"Some defeats you dwell on a little bit more, but it is about putting things right and arriving with an almost fully fit squad.

"Now we are going to go all out, we play Liverpool in between but that will take care of itself.

"I would like to think [we have more belief now]. It was a strange end to last season with the mini tournament [in Germany]; the atmosphere and feeling.

"We have to go that one step further and win. We have had a great night in this tournament before [winning it in 2017]. Our focus is on ending the season with a celebration.

"As soon as we went out of the Champions League our focus was getting to a final. We feel we have been in a proper competition, we have enjoyed it.

"When you come to the business end of the season, first of all being there for the important games, having confidence and belief, but of course to have that luck and quality which is needed.

"We have done remarkably well to get to five semis. Now we want to go all the way."

United have only lost one of their last 12 games against Italian opponents in European competition (W8 D3).

The only defeat in this run came at home to Juventus in the Champions League group stage in 2018-19.

Roma, who are seventh in Serie A, have failed to win any of their last 12 away games in Europe against English clubs, a run that has factored in matches against seven different sides (D4 L8).

On the 2007 tie with Roma, Solskjaer added: "I remember both games, I started the first one. We dug out a very good result after 2-1 defeat [in the first leg].

"That night was magical. Alan Smith was excellent, we showed what United can do. We want a performance like this again!"

United have no new injuries after the 0-0 Premier League draw at Leeds, with Eric Bailly and Marcus Rashford available while Anthony Martial and Phil Jones are still out.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

Will Cristiano Ronaldo still be at Juventus next season?

Ronaldo's future appears to depend on Juve's Champions League participation.

Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain loom large for the Portuguese superstar.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD OR PSG FOR RONALDO?

Cristiano Ronaldo is weighing up whether to return to Manchester United or join Paris Saint-Germain if Juventus fail to qualify for the Champions League next season, according to Tuttosport.

Ronaldo's future has dominated headlines amid speculation the five-time Ballon d'Or winner is set to leave Serie A giants Juve at the end of the current campaign.

Initially linked with Real Madrid, Ronaldo is reportedly eyeing either United or PSG in order to play in the Champions League.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano reports RB Leipzig head coach Julian Nagelsmann is set to replace Hansi Flick at Bayern Munich. Despite interest from Tottenham and other clubs, Nagelsmann has agreed a five-year contract with the Bundesliga champions, who must negotiate a fee with Leipzig.

Raphael Varane wants to leave Madrid amid links with Chelsea, United and PSG, claims Diario AS. The France international defender is contracted to the Santiago Bernabeu until next season but Madrid are believed to be willing to cash in on Varane as they look to fund moves for PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland, who has also been linked with Liverpool, United, Manchester City, Juve, Bayern and Barcelona.

- Manchester Evening News says United are interested in Slavia Prague's 21-year-old forward Abdallah Sima.

- The Sun reports England centre-back John Stones is in advanced talks with Premier League leaders City over a new five-year contract.

- Antonio Conte is dreaming of prising Udinese star Rodrigo De Paul to Inter, says Calciomercato. The Argentina international has also been linked with Napoli and Leeds United.

Eric Bailly has signed a new contract to keep him at Manchester United until at least June 2024.

Bailly's previous deal was deal was due to expire at the end of next season, but the 27-year-old defender has agreed terms to extend his stay.

The Ivory Coast centre-back, who has the option of a further 12-month extension on his new contract, has made only 15 appearances in another injury-hit season for United and is eager to but those troubles behind him.

"I'm very happy. This decision is something I didn't have to think about, I love this club and I love playing for Manchester United," Bailly said.

"I'm happy and so are my family, everything is good. Now the moment with my injury has passed and I'm fit and feel good, and that's it. A new contract is like a new challenge and I'm ready for this."

A week on from the drama, controversy and anger surrounding the European Super League, it felt like football – rather than its potential ruin – was at the front of the agenda this weekend.

However, the spectre of the Super League continued to loom over much of the action, with many of the so-called "big six" seeing it used as a stick to beat them with as they largely stuttered to underwhelming results.

Of those in league action over the weekend (Manchester City beat Tottenham in the EFL Cup final), only Chelsea emerged victorious, as Manchester United and Liverpool were held, while Arsenal lost at home to Everton.

Using Opta data, we look at some of the quirky facts from the latest Premier League matches…

Liverpool 1-1 Newcastle United: Reds to join exclusive list?

It was another underwhelming weekend for defending champions Liverpool, as their 1-1 draw at home to struggling Newcastle United saw them lose further ground in the fight for Champions League places.

Jurgen Klopp's men are four points adrift of Chelsea in fourth, after the Blues beat top-four rivals West Ham 1-0 at the London Stadium.

Liverpool have five matches to close the gap otherwise they face the prospect of an ignominious achievement.

Only five times before have the reigning Premier League champions failed to qualify for the Champions League the season after winning the title.

Manchester United were the first in 1994-95, also doing so in 2013-14. The other teams do this were Blackburn Rovers (1995-96), Chelsea (2015-16) and Leicester City (2016-17).

Wolves 0-4 Burnley: Wood and New Zealand join the United Nations of hat-tricks

Chris Wood enjoyed a weekend to remember as he netted his first Premier League hat-trick in Burnley's 4-0 win over Wolves.

In doing so, he became the first New Zealand national to score a treble in the competition, meaning there have been hat-tricks scored by 46 countries in the Premier League.

New Zealand has joined Gabon, South Korea, Venezuela, DR Congo, Japan, Israel, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Paraguay, Iceland, Sweden, Costa Rica and Serbia on one.

England, unsurprisingly, leads the way with 154 hat-tricks from 69 individuals. Joint second with 18 each are Netherlands and Argentina, while France (17) and Spain (11) are the only other countries into double figures.

Leeds United 0-0 Manchester United: 'Boring, boring Man United'

Fans expecting a repeat of Manchester United's 6-2 thrashing of Leeds United will have been sorely disappointed, not just with the 0-0 draw, but also given it was a fairly drab encounter.

Sure, United have excited on occasion this season, that previous win over Leeds and the 9-0 demolition of Southampton immediately coming to mind.

But Sunday's stalemate was United's seventh 0-0 draw of the season, more than any other team in the Premier League.

On top of that, 2020-21 has now seen United play out more goalless draws than any other Premier League season.

They previously played out six in 2004-05 and 2016-17, but 2020-21 now leads the way.

West Ham 0-1 Chelsea: Tuchel's at home on the road

Thomas Tuchel has made a fine impression at Chelsea since replacing Frank Lampard in January. The achievements seem to be piling up.

Chelsea's latest win saw them leave London rivals West Ham with a 1-0 win that moved them back into the top four at the expense of David Moyes' boys.

As such, he became the first Chelsea manager to avoid defeat in his first 10 away games across all competitions.

The previous club record was set by William Lewis over 100 years ago in 1906-07, when they went nine unbeaten on the road.

Tuchel also matched the record set by Luiz Felipe Scolari for the number of clean sheets (10) in his first 14 Premier League matches.

What's even more impressive about that is it's a league record, rather than just relevant to Chelsea.

Zinedine Zidane says the idea of Real Madrid being banned from the Champions League for their part in the attempted European Super League breakaway is "absurd".

Madrid were among the 12 founding clubs of the competition that was announced earlier this month, with club president Florentino Perez installed as the Super League's chairman.

But last week, within 48 hours of the plans being confirmed, the six English clubs involved all withdrew, and they were soon followed by Atletico Madrid, Inter and Milan. Juventus remain supportive of the Super League but did acknowledge the collapse of the initial proposal.

Madrid and Barcelona have been defiant since, however, adamant their plans still have merit and are not completely dead.

UEFA is threatening to punish all of the 12, but the English clubs withdrawing early could earn them some leniency, though Zidane is not worried about the idea of Madrid being barred from the Champions League next term.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday's semi-final first leg with Chelsea, Zidane said: "You have already asked me about all this and I have already answered.

"It is absurd to think that we will not be in the Champions League. There is a lot of talk from outside. There is going to be a lot of talk, but we don't control it, I just focus on the game.

"But my opinion is that we all want to see Madrid in the Champions League."

It was also put to Zidane that UEFA's stance could potentially be reflected by the officials being harsh on Madrid against Chelsea.

"The referee is going to do his job and we are going to play football," he replied. "We just have to think about that.

"If we start to think that what is being said is going to harm us, we are screwed. We are going to compete from minute one to 90. The rest, we don't get involved in."

The Champions League fixture follows a tricky LaLiga title tussle for Madrid, whose 0-0 draw with Real Betis on Saturday seeing them miss out on going top of the table.

With leaders Atletico losing to Athletic Bilbao on Sunday and Sevilla beating Granada, just three points separate top from fourth in what is shaping up to be the most thrilling title race in years, but Zidane insists Madrid will not be giving one competition priority over the other.

"We are not going to choose. We are alive in both competitions," he added. "We have had a lot of difficulties this year, but we have always been able to lift ourselves.

"There is a month left and we are going to compete until the end. There is no other thought in my head.

"What we want to do is give everything on the field, without thinking that winning will not be possible."

Does a Premier League switch beckon for Raphael Varane?

Varane has starred for Real Madrid, winning LaLiga and Champions League titles.

But Varane could be sacrificed in the Spanish capital, with Chelsea reportedly interested.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA FRONTRUNNERS FOR VARANE

Chelsea are ahead of Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain in the race to sign Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Varane has been linked with a move away from Madrid, who are looking to raise funds as they target PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

United have reportedly emerged as strong suitors but Chelsea are believed to be at the front of the queue to land the France international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal, Sport1 and other outlets report Bayern Munich have opened talks with RB Leipzig to hire head coach Julian Nagelsmann. With Hansi Flick set to depart at season's end, Nagelsmann is wanted in Munich.

Jose Mourinho is ready to return to Inter should Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte exit, claims Calciomercato. Conte is poised to lead Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10, when Mourinho oversaw a treble, but the former Italy coach's future is far from certain. Mourinho is available after he was sacked by Tottenham.

- According to Gol Digital, Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta.

Roma are targeting Maurizio Sarri as their next head coach, says Corriere dello Sport. Paulo Fonseca is currently at the helm but he is under pressure in the Italian capital. Roma have reportedly already met with ex-Chelsea, Juventus and Napoli coach Sarri to discuss finer details.

Milan have given star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma one month to decide on a contract extension, reports Tuttosport. Donnarumma is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the Italy international is yet to re-sign. The likes of United, Chelsea, Juventus, PSG and Madrid have been linked. Milan are reportedly eyeing Lille's Mike Maignan as a possible replacement.

- Bild claims Arsenal are lining up a move for Dortmund's Julian Brandt as a replacement for loanee Martin Odegaard, who is attracting interest from elsewhere. Brandt could be one of many Dortmund players to leave in the off-season as clubs circle Haaland, including Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona, United, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern.

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