England manager Gareth Southgate has warned the Manchester United players missing from his current squad that they face a tough test to secure a spot for the World Cup in Qatar later this year. 

The Three Lions are preparing for their fourth Nations League match against Hungary on Tuesday, following a three-match winless streak that has seen them lose in Budapest before draws with Germany and Italy. 

Southgate's focus is already on fine-tuning his squad for the World Cup, which begins on November 21, and managing the "strange lead-in" to the finals that fall midway through the 2022-23 Premier League season. 

There are several notable absentees from Southgate’s ranks this month, including Manchester United trio Luke Shaw, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, with Harry Maguire currently the only representative from United in the squad. 

When asked if United’s absence from the Champions League next season could result in their England contingent being fresher than some of their counterparts, Southgate declared "They've got a lot to do to get back in the squad." 

Shaw is currently sidelined through injury and has a clearer route back into Southgate's plans since Chelsea's Ben Chilwell is currently the only recognised left-back available, while Sancho and Rashford were both omitted due to poor form. 

With just one England camp before the World Cup, falling in September with the final two Nations League games against Germany and Italy, opportunities to break back into the squad will be limited and there is vast competition for a seat on the plane to Qatar. 

Rashford contributed four goals and two assists for United in the Premier League last season in 25 appearances, while Sancho's debut season at Old Trafford saw him net three goals and secure three assists in 29 league appearances. 

Southgate has until October 21 to submit a long list of players to FIFA, with the final squad expected to be announced three weeks later.

The 51-year-old, who has come under fire for his perceived cautious team selections, is hoping to work closely with clubs to monitor the fitness of his players early next season.

"Information sharing is pretty good medically and we get the performance data from the Premier League so you've got some markers," he said.

"But equally there's always an understanding that clubs that have big games might not want to share certain things too early if they've got players that might miss games. 

"In general we have decent relationships with the clubs on that stuff but there's always going to be a bit of an element of the unknown in that period."

There has not been a lot of movement among Inter's defensive stocks in recent years, with Milan Skriniar, Stefan De Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni providing continuity in front of Samir Handanovic.

Skriniar appears set to leave this off-season, however, after five years at the club.

The Nerazzurri are reportedly well-prepared in what looks set to be an active transfer window for them.

 

TOP STORY – INTER PLAN FOR SKRINIAR EXIT AS PSG MOVE NEARS

Inter have identified who they would want to replace Skriniar in the event he departs for PSG, according to Tuttosport and Corriere dello Sport.

Gleison Bremer and Nikola Milenkovic are viewed as possible replacements for the 27-year-old Slovakia international, as his move to Ligue 1 appears increasingly likely.

Skriniar's priority is to remain with Inter, where he has been since 2017 after signing from Sampdoria, but would not stand against a move to PSG if it helped Inter financially.

Bremer has reportedly already agreed personal terms with the Nerazzurri, while Milenkovic's agent met with club representatives this week.

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Roma and Lazio are both keen to sign Napoli forward Dries Mertens, whose contract expires this off-season, according to Corriere dello Sport.

Denzel Dumfries is open to leaving Inter in order to join Erik ten Hag at Manchester United, the Daily Mail reports.

– Meanwhile, the Nerazzurri are set to sign Paulo Dybala on a three-year deal with his contract at Juventus expiring, per Goal.

– Bild claims that Jonjoe Kenny has committed to joining Hertha Berlin on a free transfer from Everton.

A U.S. judge has dismissed the rape allegation lawsuit made against Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo was alleged to have raped Kathryn Mayorga in a Las Vegas hotel in 2009, which the Manchester United and Portugal forward has strongly denied. He has never been charged.

Ms Mayorga and Ronaldo are reported to have reached an out-of-court settlement of $375,000 in 2010. 

However, Ms Mayorga – who has given her consent for her name to be made public – had been seeking a further payment, stating that she felt pressured to accept the initial offer.

The case was kicked out of court on Friday, though, due to the way the documents relating to the case had been obtained.

U.S District Judge Jennifer Dorsey said in her 42-page order that Ronaldo had been harmed by the conduct of Ms Mayorga's lawyer, Leslie Mark Stovall.

Dorsey said Stovall had worked in "bad faith" through repeated use of stolen and privileged documents to prosecute, which had tainted the case beyond redemption.

"I find that the procurement and continued use of these documents was bad faith," the ruling said.

"Simply disqualifying Stovall will not cure the prejudice to Ronaldo because the misappropriated documents and their confidential contents have been woven into the very fabric of [plaintiff Kathryn] Mayorga's claims. Harsh sanctions are merited."

Ms Mayorga's legal team may yet appeal against the decision.

In a statement released in October 2018, Ronaldo said: "I firmly deny the accusations being issued against me.

"Rape is an abominable crime that goes against everything that I am and believe in."

Robert Lewandowski's transfer away from Bayern Munich is becoming an increasingly likely scenario this off-season.

Leaving Bayern for Barcelona has always been the intent for the striker, but other things need to fall into place for it to happen.

In the event the deal falls through, though, there is a reported suitor looking to take advantage.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED JOIN RACE FOR LEWANDOWSKI

Manchester United will look to swoop if Lewandowski's move to Barcelona falls flat, according to The Sun.

The Poland striker has his heart set on a move to the Camp Nou, despite having a year left on his deal at Bayern.

The move to Barcelona will be dependent on the Blaugrana moving on some of their higher earners first, with Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele linked with transfers elsewhere.

The 33-year-old is still scoring with intimidating regularity, bagging 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern in all competitions last season.

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Christopher Nkunku is set to sign a new contract with RB Leipzig, warding off interest from United and Chelsea, Leipziger Volkszeitung reports.

Paris Saint-Germain are insisting on a move for Inter's Milan Skriniar, although the clubs are yet to agree on a transfer fee, according to Fabrizio Romano.

Tottenham are in advanced negotiations to sign Everton and Brazil forward Richarlison, per UOL Esporte.

Paul Pogba will return to Juventus on a four-year deal following his contract expiry with United, Gazzetta dello Sport is reporting.

Arsenal are preparing to make a move for Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, with his price tag believed to be in the region of £45million.

Milinkovic-Savic is coming off arguably the best season of his career, scoring 11 goals and dishing 11 assists in 37 Serie A contests this campaign.

He has been with Lazio since arriving from Belgian side Genk in 2015, but he appears to be headed to the Premier League – with a second English club also reportedly competing for his signature.


TOP STORY – SERBIAN STAR SETS SIGHTS ON PREMIER LEAGUE

Italian outlet Corriere dello Sport called Lazio management delusional if they believe teams will pay a figure of over €70m, and instead believe Arsenal will come calling with a lesser bid of "at least £42m" in the hope it will be enough.

Also mentioned in the report as an interested party are Newcastle United, who are still searching for a marquee signing this offseason.

The Serbian is not the only expensive target on the Gunners' list, as the Telegraph named them as one of five teams considering a move for Leeds United's Raphinha, as well as being linked with Leicester City's Youri Tielemans.

If there is to be a spending spree at Arsenal, the Express is reporting Granit Xhaka could be heading the other way, with strong interest said to be coming from Jose Mourinho's Roma.


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– The Liverpool Echo are reporting Benfica striker Darwin Nunez has told friends and family he will be heading to Liverpool in a deal believed to be in the range of €100million.

– According to The Mirror, Barcelona have rejected Manchester United's £60m offer for Frenkie de Jong, but are still interested in moving him for a higher fee.

– Inter have slapped a €100m price-tag on centre-back Milan Skriniar after Paris Saint-Germain came calling about his availability, per Calciomercato.

– The Guardian are reporting Tottenham have agreed to a £20m deal for England Under-21 right-back Djed Spence after he impressed last season on loan from Middlesbrough at Nottingham Forest. 

– According to Sport Witness, Jules Kounde has told Sevilla he wishes to leave the club, with Chelsea expected to be the beneficiaries.

Darwin Nunez can be a hybrid of fellow Uruguayan strikers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, according to a former coach of the 22-year-old.

Nunez has been heavily linked with a big-money move from Benfica to Liverpool or Manchester United ahead of next season, with a reported fee of up to €100million (£85m) being touted.

The young forward produced electric form for Benfica in 2021-22, scoring 34 goals in 41 games in all competitions, including six Champions League goals against Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Ajax and Liverpool.

Leonardo Ramos coached Nunez during his time at Penarol in Uruguay and told Stats Perform of his belief that, while the player still has a lot to learn, he is showing similar traits to legendary La Celeste strikers Suarez and Cavani.

"Everyone compares him a lot to Cavani," Ramos said. "They have a similar style. It seems to me that Darwin is faster and more powerful than Cavani. Cavani, maybe now he is a more experienced player and knows the moments where to press, when to attack, when to go back, when to be able to play and associate with his team-mates.

"Today, Darwin seems to me to be much more explosive, but apart from that explosiveness, he obviously has already shown unbelievable a scoring ability. 

"It is the same scoring ability that we saw in Uruguay when he was in the bases of Penarol because he scored many goals there. And the truth is that if you ask me about a player who looks quite similar to him, I would say Cavani."

When asked if there were any similarities to former Liverpool and Barcelona star Suarez, Ramos said: "I think he has two parts, it's half-and-half.

"He has the power that Suarez had to go for everything, to go to the clash, to be a fighter with the rival. And he also has the part of Cavani, of being a much more athletic player, more physical, more intelligent, and I think it's a union of those two things that are important.

"Let's see, Darwin is still a very young boy, he has to learn a lot. It is not to discredit the Portuguese league, but [he will be judged] playing in Spain or Italy, which along with England, are the places where he will surely need much more of his characteristics and his strength to perform much better."

Reports suggest that Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp sees Nunez as an ideal replacement for Sadio Mane, who is being linked with a move to Bayern Munich, and Ramos can see why the Reds are interested, though does think it could be a bit early for the player to move to such a club.

"Darwin is a player who can help a lot in the recovery of the ball," he said. "With Uruguay, he does it and does it very well.

"Yes, he is a player who has to play near the area because there he is lethal, he has no regard for the opponent, he knows in advance where the ball is going to fall and where the goal is, [but] I don't know if it's time for him to go to Liverpool now. Not because of his conditions, but because [Liverpool] is a very big club.

"There have been players who have been very important in world football who have gone to play for Liverpool and they have failed.

"I think it would suit Darwin, and I have to say that this is just my opinion, it does not mean I am right, but I think that it would be better for him to go to a lower team to gain experience and explode at another time.

"Although the moments are now and Darwin's time is now, so if he goes to Liverpool, it seems to me that if Liverpool takes him it's because they really believe he can work in their team."

The 2021-22 season may still be ongoing at international level, but Premier League and Ligue 1 clubs can officially register new signings for the next campaign following the opening of the transfer window on Friday.

Teams in LaLiga, Serie A and the Bundesliga must wait until July 1 for their business to go through – though that is not to say preparations are not already in full swing behind the scenes.

Indeed, a number of big deals are already in place and waiting to get the seal of approval, with Antonio Rudiger heading to Real Madrid and Karim Adeyemi brought in by Borussia Dortmund to replace Manchester City-bound Erling Haaland, while others – Darwin Nunez to Liverpool and Aurelien Tchouameni to Madrid – appear to be all-but complete.

One transfer saga came to an end before the window even officially opened, meanwhile, with Kylian Mbappe confirming that he is staying put at Paris Saint-Germain, despite strong interest from Madrid.

For others, there are weeks of uncertainty ahead. Having already picked out the big-name free agents up for grabs this window, Stats Perform looks at the transfer sagas that are likely to rumble on for a little while longer yet.


Player: Robert Lewandowski
Current club: Bayern Munich
Rumoured suitors: Barcelona, Real Madrid

While the futures of Mbappe and Haaland have already been resolved, arguably the world's best striker in Lewandowski is seeking pastures new after recently declaring that his time at Bayern "has come to an end" – even if the German champions do not quite see it that way.

The Poland international still has 12 months to run on his contract and Bayern are understandably reluctant to sell, even if that means forgoing a transfer fee in a year's time, making things particularly difficult for Barcelona, who are the rumoured frontrunners for his signature.

He was once again the hottest striker across Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22 when taking all competitions into account, the 33-year-old scoring 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern in what was his second-best goalscoring campaign across eight years in Bavaria, behind only the 55 netted in 2019-20.

 

Player: Sadio Mane
Current club: Liverpool
Rumoured suitors: Real Madrid

Whether it is to replace wantaway Lewandowski or to play alongside the prolific striker, Bayern are seemingly intent on bringing Liverpool and Senegal forward Mane to the Allianz Arena.

Bayern are reported to have had a second bid of €35.3million (£30m) turned down by Liverpool earlier this week, with the ball very much in the Reds' court – just like it is with the Bavarians and Lewandowski.

Mane would be a huge loss to Liverpool, having scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League appearances since joining at the start of 2016-17 – only Jamie Vardy (104), team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Harry Kane (134) have more – explaining their desire to snap up Nunez from Benfica.

 

Player: Gabriel Jesus
Current club: Manchester City
Rumoured suitors: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Real Madrid

Manchester City striker Jesus may just about be the most in-demand player up for grabs this window, with his agent confirming as many as seven clubs are interested in signing the Brazil international.

Arsenal are the only known team to be in discussions with Jesus' camp, though they are expected to face interest from the likes of rivals Tottenham and Chelsea, as well as reigning European and Spanish champions Madrid.

The stats reflect exactly why Jesus is so highly regarded – albeit not by City following the arrival of Haaland – as he has scored or assisted in 57 per cent of matches he has started in the Premier League, a figure bettered only by Salah (62 per cent), Thierry Henry (61 per cent) and City legend Sergio Aguero (60 per cent) among those to have started at least 10 games.

 

Player: Frenkie de Jong
Current club: Barcelona
Rumoured suitors: Manchester United

De Jong has not quite been able to match expectations at Barcelona since arriving from Ajax in a big-money deal two years ago, which the midfielder has regularly put down to being used out of position in central midfield.

The arrival of the Netherlands international's former Ajax boss Erik ten Hag at United has only intensified speculation that he could be on his way out of Camp Nou, with Barca themselves needing to offload players if they are to seriously strengthen elsewhere.

De Jong will leave a void to be filled if he does move on, though, as Sergio Busquets (51) was the only Barca outfielder to feature in more games in the 2021-22 campaign than the 25-year-old (47 apps).

 

Player: Christopher Nkunku
Current club: RB Leipzig
Rumoured suitors: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid

Nkunku well and truly burst onto the scene in the 2021-22 campaign with a combined 51 goals and assists in 52 games for Leipzig across all competitions, meaning he near enough directly contributed to a goal per game.

Only Europe's absolute elite players, Lewandowski (56 goal involvements), Benzema (59) and Mbappe (60), outperformed Nkunku in that regard, making links with Europe's top clubs unsurprising.

Still aged only 24, the four-cap France international may well be a Ballon d'Or winner in waiting if his trajectory over the past couple of seasons is anything to go by. But with two years to run on his Leipzig contract, it will take a huge sum for the Bundesliga side to even consider cashing in. 

 

Irrespective of the result, a lingering sense of change accompanied Liverpool's Champions League final appearance.

Reports on Sadio Mane's departure and Mohamed Salah's reticence over a new deal follow Roberto Firmino's status on the periphery this season.

Following Luis Diaz's arrival in January, it appears another South American star is set to land at Anfield via Portugal.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL AGREE TERMS WITH DARWIN NUNEZ

Liverpool have reached an agreement on personal terms with Benfica striker Darwin Nunez, according to the Athletic.

While reports suggest nothing has yet been signed and no agreement between the clubs is in place, they are closer to finalising the deal.

Discussions are ongoing with regards to the structure of the deal, but it is understood any deal will break the £85.5million (€100m) mark.

Jurgen Klopp is said to be an admirer of the 22-year-old, with the club looking to act in the event of Sadio Mane's reported departure for Bayern Munich.

Erik ten Hag has the coaching qualities needed to succeed as Manchester United manager, according to Matthijs de Ligt.

Former Ajax boss Ten Hag was confirmed as Ralf Rangnick's successor in April and officially took charge last month.

The Dutchman takes over a United side that recorded their lowest points tally in a Premier League season last term when finishing 35 points behind champions Manchester City.

While the size of the rebuild job is clear to see, Juventus centre-back De Ligt – who played under Ten Hag in Amsterdam – believes his compatriot is up to the task.

"He is someone who loves his job and he loves to work," De Ligt said. "He's really into the details. This makes him a really good trainer.

"He has a lot of qualities [to succeed]. We will have to see how he goes."

United have been tipped to make a number of signings ahead of next season, but De Ligt insists Ten Hag can also get more out of United's current squad.

"He definitely improves players. He wants to do everything to make his team play better," the defender said.

Ten Hag, who is United's fifth permanent manager since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, is reportedly eager to make Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong his first signing.

De Ligt and De Jong played a big part in Ajax's run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19, when also winning a domestic double under the watch of Ten Hag.

However, De Ligt is not sure if his Netherlands team-mate will link up with Ten Hag at Old Trafford.

"He's an amazing player and everybody knows how important he is for the team," De Ligt said. "But he's not said anything [about a transfer]."

Daley Blind has backed "control freak" Erik ten Hag to succeed at Manchester United and deliver the attacking football that the club "stands for".

Ten Hag was in April confirmed as the successor to Ralf Rangnick, who will not take up a consultancy role at Old Trafford after taking charge of Austria.

The former Ajax coach has a sizeable rebuilding job to do after United recorded their lowest points tally in a Premier League season.

The Red Devils also failed to end a league campaign with a positive goal difference (zero in 2021-22) for the first time since the 1989-90 season (-1).

Ten Hag guided Ajax to a third Eredivisie title in four full seasons at the helm and Blind backed the 52-year-old to make a big impact at his former club.

"He's really social," the Ajax defender Daley told United's official website. "I think, also in Ajax, he knows everyone at the club is important. Everyone needs to be involved to get that winning feeling, that winning mentality.

"Everyone is needed pointing in the same direction. He is aware of that and wants to keep everything close. He's also a control freak and wants to be on top of everything. I think that's a special quality you need to have when being that good.

"I think he is a brilliant [coach]. A manager who loves to play attacking football, what Manchester stands for.

"I think he's a manager who knows what he wants. He knows exactly how he wants to bring it over to the team and express that and keep everyone on board, everyone in the same direction to get that winning mentality and winning trophies."

United have not won a trophy since the 2017 Europa League final success under Jose Mourinho and Blind insists Ten Hag must build foundations before focusing on silverware.

"It's difficult to say," he responded when asked about Ten Hag delivering trophies at United. "I won't burn my hands on that but I think the most important thing is that the team puts out a playing style and people can see that back on the pitch.

"I think, if that's going to happen, then winning will become more easy. From winning, you win trophies. When this happens, I don't know.

"I know this manager has the quality and I hope he gets the time to put everything his way and makes sure the team plays how he wants. I am confident he will be successful."

Manchester United have become somewhat accustomed to disappointment over the past nine years, but the 2021-22 season arguably saw them plumb new depths.

United accumulated just 58 points, their worst record in a single Premier League campaign.

But on top of that, champions Manchester City's haul of 93 points meant United finished the season 35 points adrift of the summit – that is comfortably the furthest off the top the Red Devils have ended a term in the Premier League era.

It was also the first time since 1989-90 that United failed to finish a league season with a positive goal difference, as they scored and conceded 57 goals.

Interim manager Ralf Rangnick said during his tenure that the squad needed the equivalent of open-heart surgery, suggesting they needed potentially 10 new players.

There are arguably four players who head into the pre-season under new manager Erik ten Hag having not done themselves a disservice this season, though even they will still have points to prove.
 

Fred

The United career of Fred has been a peculiar one. It's fair to say even his most-ardent backers would admit he's not exactly been worth the monumental reported transfer fee of £52million.

But in his defence, a lot of his time at United has been spent playing out of position. At no point since he joined have the club had a world-class defensive midfielder, meaning he's very often been shoe-horned into that role.

And it rarely takes long for his glaring inadequacies in such a position to come to the surface. First and foremost, his awareness of what's around him is poor, and that's arguably the nightmare situation for someone playing a role in which you expect to receive the ball under pressure just outside your box.

The 2021-22 season still had a bit of that for Fred, but crucially there were more signs of him operating more functionally as a 'number eight', rather than a six, and while few would consider him to be an outstanding passer, it's in this role where his excellent work rate and generally solid technique become much more of an asset to the team.

Among United players to feature for at least 500 minutes across all competitions this season, only Diogo Dalot (2.9) attempted more tackles than Fred (2.7) on a per-90-minute basis, while just three players engaged in more duels than the Brazilian (11.7). He also ranked behind only three for passes into the final third (7.5).

Now, perhaps perception plays a part in what many would consider a decent season for Fred, meaning his low performance level in the past suggests his improvement is exaggerated. But as long as he's not playing as a six again, expect Ten Hag to find a use for him.
 

David de Gea

Few would disagree with the suggestion De Gea's level dipped significantly a few years ago, but there were some positive signs in the 2021-22 season, almost as if he had reacted to the scare of seeing Dean Henderson get some game time in 2020-21.

In fact, his 2.8 goals prevented was the second-best score in the Premier League, highlighting how good his shot-stopping was.

Over the course of the campaign, only Illan Meslier (143) and Kasper Schmeichel (131) managed more saves than De Gea (128). This obviously proves just how unreliable the defence in front of him was, because no team of their stature should have such a busy goalkeeper.

For example, Ederson faced just 60 shots, which was the fewest of any goalkeeper to play over 1,600 minutes.

But despite De Gea generally enjoying a positive season when it comes to bailing United out, there remain plenty of fans and critics who feel the club could still do better than him.

Under Ten Hag, it would seem likely there will be a greater reliance on keeping possession, and this could be where other options are considered.

While De Gea's own-half passing accuracy of 88.2 per cent doesn't sound alarming, there were 12 goalkeepers (minimum 500 minutes) with better records, while the 96 and 95 per cent posted by Ederson and Alisson, respectively, show a significant gulf.

Similarly, in the same group of goalkeepers, De Gea ranked 18th (out of 26) for long-pass accuracy (33.1 per cent). The gap to Ederson (59.3 per cent) and Alisson (48.1 per cent) is even more pronounced.

Of course, a goalkeeper's primary function is to prevent goals, but if yours is completely out of sync with the team's style, then that's automatically an area where you're not maximising potential.
 

Cristiano Ronaldo

When Ronaldo's return was confirmed last year, there was an awful lot of noise around whether he was right for United.

People claimed that, despite his goals, Ronaldo made Juventus a less functional team because he didn't offer enough outside the penalty area.

Those suggestions never quite went away at United either because, regardless of how effective he proved to be in the box, the team in general played below expectations for practically the entire season.

It's impossible to say whether a different striker with a broader arsenal would have turned United into a better team, but given how deep their issues run, it seems a little unfair to pin the blame on Ronaldo.

After all, goals win football matches – he certainly did his bit. Across all competitions, he scored 24 goals at a rate of one every 132.9 minutes. Only Jamie Vardy (131.6 mins), Mohamed Salah (129.5 mins) and Riyad Mahrez (122.1 mins) netted with greater frequency among Premier League players (min. 50 shots).

Similarly, only Salah (31) and Harry Kane (27) scored more than Ronaldo, though each of them had at least an extra 800 minutes on the pitch than him.

Ronaldo's 24 makes him one of only six players to net at least 20 goals in a single season for United since Alex Ferguson retired, with Bruno Fernandes and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (both 28) plundering the most in that span.

Surely Ten Hag won't discard him?
 

Anthony Elanga

There was an expectation Elanga was going to play a reasonable amount of football this season, such had been his progress in the United youth sides.

But he didn't feature in a single Premier League game until Ralf Rangnick's first match in charge at the start of December. Before then, he'd had one brief cameo in the EFL Cup before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer promptly forgot about him again.

As it happened, Elanga proved to be a bit of a Rangnick favourite. Even though a lot of his appearances were from the bench, no outfield player featured in more games for the interim manager than the speedy forward.

Rangnick clearly liked Elanga's pace, attitude and work rate, and he did chip in with three goals. Granted, that was hardly an outstanding number, but over the same period only Ronaldo (12) and Fernandes (five) managed more.

His nine chances created was a pretty poor return, but again, only Ronaldo (84) and Fernandes (67) attempted more shots than the Sweden international (27), so he was offering something in attack.

There's undoubtedly a lot of room for improvement there, and he'll need to sharpen up from a creative sense if he's to have a long-term future at the club, but he's clearly in a stronger position than 12 months ago.

Richarlison has reportedly informed Everton of his desire to leave the club, naming a top side from each of England, Spain and France as his preferred landing spots.

The Brazil striker arrived from Watford in 2018 and, after scoring 10 Premier League goals this campaign, he has now scored at least 10 league goals in three of the past four seasons.

He closed this term with six goals in his last nine appearances, helping Everton avoid relegation, but he now has his sights set on Champions League football.

 

TOP STORY – RICHARLISON DESIRES CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MOVE 

The 25-year-old has reportedly narrowed his list down to Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, and he is expected to command a fee of around £65million.

Also mentioned in The Sun's report is Everton majority owner Farhad Moshiri's plan to balance the books after recording losses significant enough to jeopardise the club's financial fair play status, which will likely see both Richarlison and fellow striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin leave Goodison Park for more than a combined £100m.

Once considered a front-runner to land the star forward, Arsenal are no longer said to be in play after finishing fifth, missing out on Champions League qualification.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Mirror claims in-demand Benfica striker Darwin Nunez is hesitant to join Manchester United due to his desire for Champions League football, while the Daily Star insists Liverpool are now his preferred English club.

– According to RMC Sport, United and Chelsea will compete for Leicester City's 21-year-old defender Wesley Fofana.

– La Repubblica is reporting that Chelsea are not against allowing Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter, but they want either Lautaro Martinez or Alessandro Bastoni in return.

West Ham are open to the idea of selling Said Benrahma, with hopes of bringing Jesse Lingard to the club after a successful loan stint in 2020-21, according to The Sun.

– The Times is reporting Manchester City have offered Gabriel Jesus to Tottenham, after strong interest was shown by Arsenal.

The seemingly never-ending 2021-22 season may be ongoing, with a number of big international fixtures still to be played this month, but plenty of focus is already on the next campaign.

This month's conclusion will mark the end of an era for many players as their contracts come to an end – though for some it will provide a much-needed opportunity to begin a new chapter elsewhere.

For others, becoming a free agent simply provides more bargaining power when negotiating fresh terms with their current employers, at a time when most clubs cannot spend as frivolously on new players as they once could.

While some big-name freebies have already moved clubs, and others are reported to have signed pre-contract agreements elsewhere – such as Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen at Barcelona – others remain on the market.

Here, Stats Perform picks out some of those who are on the lookout for a new club.


Player: Paul Pogba
Current club: Manchester United
Rumoured suitors: Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain

United last week announced the departures of six players, with Juan Mata, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Pogba among them. While the first three of those will undoubtedly be of interest to teams across the continent, Pogba is arguably the most in-demand free agent around.

Juventus reportedly lead the way for the France international, who won eight trophies in four seasons with the Serie A giants prior to rejoining United in 2016. Whichever side of the divide you stand – that Pogba has too often been used out of position or is just simply not good enough – there is no denying his second spell at Old Trafford has not gone to plan.

Still, with 67 goals and assists in the Premier League since the start of 2016-17, United are waving goodbye to a player who has been involved in 17.5 per cent of their goals across that period – only Marcus Rashford (21.9 per cent) has directly contributed to more.

 

Player: Gareth Bale
Current club: Real Madrid
Rumoured suitors: Cardiff City, Getafe, MLS clubs

As the winner of 16 trophies across nine seasons at Madrid – one of those spent on loan at Tottenham – and still aged just 32, you would imagine Bale would have the pick of the world's top clubs to choose from in the upcoming transfer window.

But that is not quite the case, with hometown club Cardiff City and Madrid-based Getafe now considered the two favourites to land the Wales international. That does come with a caveat of sorts, though, as Bale's main focus is on entering November's World Cup with Wales in peak fitness, rather than adding to his trophy collection.

The forward has had a number of injury setbacks in recent years but, wherever he plies his trade next season, he will want to play more football than he did in 2021-22 when available. He featured in just seven of Madrid's 56 matches, totalling 290 minutes on the field, and started only four of those – seven per cent of all minutes Madrid played.

 

Player: Ousmane Dembele
Current club: Barcelona
Rumoured suitors: Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool

Barcelona were eager to get Dembele off their books in January, so much so that director of football Mateu Alemany publicly told the France international to find a new club "immediately". Five months on, after a strong second half to the 2021-22 season, Barca would like nothing more than to retain Dembele's services.

The former Borussia Dortmund attacker assisted 11 LaLiga goals between the start of 2022 and the end of the season, a tally that no other player across Europe's top five leagues could match, with Lionel Messi next best on 10 with PSG in Ligue 1.

Re-signing Messi has been touted, but that seems fanciful a year on from his emotional exit, so Barca may well focus on tying Dembele down to a new deal before PSG – who also have another ex-Barcelona favourite in Neymar on their books – add to a star-studded frontline.

 

Player: Paulo Dybala
Current club: Juventus
Rumoured suitors: Arsenal, Tottenham, Barcelona

Juventus are coming off the back of their first trophyless season in a decade, and with it comes the end of an era in many ways as Giorgio Chiellini is departing after 18 years in Turin, while Federico Bernardeschi is also on his way out and seemingly set for Napoli.

However, the name on everyone's lips right now is Dybala's, even if the Argentina international has not fully lived up to the admittedly huge hype following his arrival at Juve from Palermo in a €40million transfer seven years ago.

Dybala can still be pleased enough with his goalscoring return at the Allianz Stadium, having netted 115 goals in 293 appearances in all competitions, making him the club's third-highest foreign goalscorer of all time behind David Trezeguet (171) and John Hansen (124).

 

Player: Angel Di Maria 
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
Rumoured suitors: Juventus, Barcelona

Di Maria signed off from PSG in the near-perfect manner with a goal and an assist in his final game for the club against Metz last month, though his importance clearly diminished following the arrival of Messi as he started just 19 Ligue 1 games last term, down from 23 in the two previous campaigns.

That performance against Metz, albeit in a dead-rubber, highlighted Di Maria's quality when used and it is perhaps little surprise that some big-name clubs are interested. A move to Juventus seemed a certainty not so long ago, but Barcelona are supposedly now the frontrunners for the 34-year-old.

Di Maria is not the only South American attacker available to sign on a free next month, either, as the aforementioned Cavani and Uruguay international team-mate Luis Suarez are also on the lookout for a new club following their exits from United and Atletico Madrid respectively.

With Marcus Rashford reportedly drawing interest from Italy, Spain and even Tottenham, Manchester United are trying to keep him at Old Trafford by placing a price-tag on him "between £70million and £80m".

In a disappointing campaign, the 24-year-old scored just five goals from 32 games in all club competition, and he did not play a full 90 minutes in any of the five Champions League fixtures he was healthy for (subbed on twice, subbed off three times).

His Premier League season also did not go to plan, missing the first seven games due to a shoulder injury, and finishing with 12 of his 25 appearances coming off the bench.

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS LOOK TO KEEP RIVALS AWAY FROM RASHFORD

The exact figures of "between £70m and £80m" came from Italian super-agent Roberto De Fanti during an exclusive interview with CaughtOffside, where he said he expected United to ask for "around £40m, maybe £50m."

De Fanti mentioned he was aware of interest from "all the top sides in Spain and Italy" and that Rashford's management had met with Tottenham about a potential deal, but Spurs "feel negotiating a deal for Rashford is virtually impossible" due to the asking price.

Emphasising that it is not a case of United trying to scrounge every possible dollar out of a sale, De Fanti said "United are confident a club is unlikely to pay that [figure]", and that he is not on the list of players Erik ten Hag is planning on selling to fund up to six new signings.

 

ROUND-UP

– According to The Sun, Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku has been contacting Inter since Christmas in an attempt to expedite a transfer away from Stamford Bridge.

– Todofichajes is reporting Liverpool view Chelsea's Christian Pulisic as a potential replacement for Sadio Mane, with the American's price-tag said to be in the range of £42m.

West Ham United sent scouts to watch Denmark's recent Nations League fixture, with the Daily Star reporting they are interested in both Christian Eriksen and Atalanta right-back Joakim Maehle.

– According to De Telegraaf, Barcelona are willing to part ways with Frenkie de Jong if they receive what they perceive to be a fair offer, with Manchester United leading the race.

– The Express is reporting that Newcastle United have set their sights on Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin after missing out on Bayer Leverkusen star Moussa Diaby.

Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal says Ed Woodward’s departure from Old Trafford could "make the difference" for new boss Erik ten Hag to have success with the Red Devils.

Van Gaal led United from 2014 to 2016, winning the 2016 FA Cup before being sacked two days later with Woodward in charge as the club’s vice-chairman at the time.

The 70-year-old Dutchman has been critical of United in the past for being too commercially focused, rather than being a football club.

Woodward had been at the helm at Old Trafford from 2012 until February this year, with Richard Arnold replacing him in the lead-up to Ten Hag’s appointment as the club’s new manager in April.

Ten Hag, who joined United from Dutch champions Ajax, faces a stern challenge reviving the club who has not won silverware since 2017, but Van Gaal believes change at the top may help his cause.

"There is now a new leadership," Van Gaal told reporters ahead of the Netherlands’ Nations League game with Wales in Cardiff on Wednesday.

"It was Woodward, now it's Richard Arnold, and that can make the difference so we have to wait and see.

"[Ten Hag] has a lot of confidence, so who am I to say something about that?"

Upon his appointment as United boss, Ten Hag had rebuffed Van Gaal’s claims about the club being too interested in commercial affairs.

"I draw my own line and I’m convinced that is not the case," Ten Hag said.

"I spoke to the directors about it and football is one, two, three these days."

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