Didier Deschamps and France have agreed not to discuss a new contract until after the World Cup but that does not mean Zinedine Zidane is guaranteed to take charge of Les Blues, says French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet.

Deschamps became France boss in 2012 and has since signed two contract extensions, the latter of which came after World Cup glory at Russia 2018.

The 53-year-old's current deal expires after Les Blues aim to defend their title at Qatar 2022, leading to speculation that former Real Madrid boss Zidane will be appointed after the tournament.

Le Graet suggested the appointment of Zidane has not already been pre-agreed as he placed his support behind Deschamps.

"We both agreed not to renew him until after the World Cup," Le Graet said of Deschamps to L'Equipe. "He's not mad at me. He adores me. I think he will never say anything bad about me. 

"He lost a game in the European Championship and for much of France, he should have been fired [after the last-16 exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020].

"We'll see at the end of the World Cup if he wants to renew. We will spend time in Guingamp to discuss."

When pressed for an answer as to Zidane taking charge as Deschamps' successor, Le Graet responded: "First of all, you have to be careful with what you say. Zidane showed in Madrid that he had qualities that were barely imagined. 

"In the minds of the French, he could be a successor. But that is not my goal. We'll see. If Didier and I split up, he will definitely be one of the options.

"I'm not going to say to myself: 'I hope Didier says he doesn't want to renew and I go see Zidane'. Do you see me saying today: 'It is Zidane who is going to replace Deschamps'? We'll see.

"Maybe Zidane will take charge of Paris Saint-Germain. To train the national team you have to be free. But today we will do everything possible to put Didier in the best conditions to win this World Cup."

Indeed, Zidane emerged as a favourite when reports circulated in France that Mauricio Pochettino's PSG job was under threat after Champions League elimination at the last-16 stage to Real Madrid.

Even if Zidane is available, Le Graet insists he has learnt from the mistakes of his predecessor and will not seek a new manager while Deschamps is still at the helm.

"I will never do what my predecessor [Jean-Pierre Escalettes] did, who had already signed Laurent Blanc before going to South Africa for the [2010] World Cup," he added.

"[Raymond] Domenech was already on alert. How do you expect the players to respect you when a successor has already been named? 

"It doesn't work and never will. In no case will I see another coach before having lunch with Didier after the World Cup."

Xabi Alonso says Real Madrid's ability to grind out results when not at their best has been key to their success this season, as Los Blancos eye a 35th LaLiga title. 

Alonso, who now coaches Real Sociedad's B team, made 236 appearances during a five-year spell at the Santiago Bernabeu, helping Carlo Ancelotti's team lift the Champions League trophy in 2014.

With Ancelotti back at the helm, Madrid hold a 15-point lead over Barcelona at the top of LaLiga, and the Italian looks set to celebrate his first Spanish title triumph after already winning league titles in Italy, England, France, and Germany.

After beating Sevilla 3-2 with a late Karim Benzema goal last time out, Los Blancos have won 17 points from losing positions this season, the most in LaLiga, and Alonso believes that fighting spirit has been crucial.

"I think the team have found that stability, knowing that maybe they can struggle during one game, but they will have a chance to win and that they can win any game," he told FedEx.

"So far, in difficult moments, they have won games, and they are feeling comfortable playing great football and comfortable playing not the best football.

"Sometimes that's important as well, not to get nervous when you are not playing your best, to deal with those difficult times. I think that Madrid, they have dealt very well with those moments and that's why they are now in a great position.

"[There are] still many points [to play for], but yes, they are favourites [to win the league]. I think that they are the most consistent team. That's what gives you the best chance to win LaLiga at the moment. 

"I think that Carlo is a wise man. He knows how to find and to put the pieces together. That's why he's been with so many clubs, and he's [done] so many great things. He's finding his team, and he's able to deal with them so well because he has those skills to deal with the players."

Madrid have won 23 of their 32 LaLiga games this season, their highest number of victories at this stage of a season since 2016-17, when they won the title after having an identical record at this stage.

Although 39-goal striker Karim Benzema has led the charge for LaLiga and Champions League trophies, Alonso heaped praise on Ancelotti's reliable engine-room trio.

The 40-year-old also highlighted the potential of Barcelona's young midfielders, but stressed that the Blaugrana are in a "different moment" to Madrid as Xavi rebuilds the Catalan giants.

"Year by year, the midfield of Madrid, they are getting older, but they are as good as always. I've seen that Casemiro, Luka [Modric] and Toni [Kroos], they are safe as houses for any manager," he added.

"I think that Carlo has found what he needs from them and for sure he will need to rotate them. [But] they are playing very, very good football, and they are showing composure. 

"As always [with] Barca players, they have different kind of midfielders, [at a] different stage of their careers. For example, Nico, Gavi with the support of [Sergio] Busquets, it's a great prospect, but they are in a different moment right now."

Alonso picked out Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane as the one man he would have loved to play alongside..

"For sure, I would have loved to play with Zidane because I remember when I started playing in Sociedad, one of my first memories was playing against one of my idols. That was him," he added.

"To play against him, it was hard, but it was so enjoyable, and he was so elegant, things looked so easy for him, and he was such a good player. I would have loved to play with him, but I played against him."

Lautaro Martinez was very close to joining Barcelona from Inter Milan two years ago.

The Blaugrana and the Argentina international had reached a personal agreement, but the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered any possibility for the former to make any transfer happen.

As ever, though, circumstances in football change and according to reports, they have changed in a way that would allow Barca to finally get the Martinez deal over the line.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA IN FRAME FOR LAUTARO

Barcelona are back in the running to sign Inter's Lautaro Martinez, according to reports from Sport.

The 24-year-old is increasingly likely to leave the reigning Serie A champions, but it appears the club would be willing to lower their asking price in exchange for players as part of a package deal.

Inter have shown interest in Miralem Pjanic and Memphis Depay, two players who appear to be surplus to requirements in a rebuild under Xavi at the Catalan giants.

Martinez, who has provided 15 goals and three assists in 28 league appearances this season, is seen as a more affordable alternative to Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

 

ROUND-UP

– Liverpool are eyeing Aberdeen right-back Calvin Ramsey to provide depth for Trent Alexander-Arnold, the Sun reports.

Paris Saint-Germain are ready to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino in order to hire Zinedine Zidane as their head coach, per Le Parisien.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Roma would consider an offer of €60million (£49.6m) for highly-rated 22-year-old Nicolo Zaniolo, as interest from Serie A and Premier League clubs looms.

– Juventus are prepared to offer for Chelsea's Jorginho, with the Turin giants seeking to bolster their midfield next season, according to Tuttosport.

– Chelsea are willing to let 28-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku go with Inter and PSG interested, per 90Min.

Paris Saint-Germain have reportedly opened talks with Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte, who has a clause to leave Spurs at the end of the season.

Conte's contract with the North London club runs until the end of the 2022-23 season, after replacing Nuno Espirito Santo in November last year.

However, while the specific terms of that contract are unclear, it reportedly allows for a departure pending certain circumstances. 

TOP STORY – PSG TARGET CONTE AS POCH REPLACEMENT

According to Calciomercato, Paris Saint-Germain are set to part ways with Mauricio Pochettino and are already in the process of looking for his replacement.

Their primary target appears to be Antonio Conte  - who is reportedly tempted by the contract - which is forcing Tottenham into action, to persuade him to see out his deal. 

The 52-year-old is not the only candidate according to the report, with Massimiliano Allegri and Zinedine Zidane also among the potential hires.

Tottenham accounted for Brighton and Hove Albion on Wednesday, but earlier last week, Conte said he would discuss his future with Spurs at the end of the season. 

ROUND-UP

- Per reports from Kicker, Robert Lewandowski is yet to extend his contract at Bayern Munich, despite Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic's public claims the club wants him to stay. With the Polish striker entering the final 18 months of his current deal, agent Pini Zahavi is looking to secure his future at Sabenerstrasse.

- According to Globo, Edinson Cavani's potential move to Botafogo has fallen through due to the Uruguayan striker's wage demands. Battling injury, Cavani's playing time at Manchester United has failed to see continuity under Ralf Rangnick.

- Nicolo Schira is reporting Milan are getting closer to signing Divock Origi from Liverpool, in order to bolster their stocks up front. Origi's representatives and Milan have met and are looking to progress discussions.

- The Mirror is reporting Lord Sebastian Coe is joining a consortium for the potential takeover of Chelsea, after Roman Abramovich's assets were frozen by the United Kingdom government.

Thomas Tuchel set a record for the most Champions League wins after 50 games as a coach in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Lille on Wednesday. 

The Blues' triumph at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in their last-16 second leg put Tuchel on 32 victories from a half-century of matches. 

It sent him past the previous benchmark set by Zinedine Zidane, who managed 31 wins in his first 50 Champions League games in the dugout. 

Chelsea had to come from behind to complete a 4-1 aggregate success against Lille, though. Christian Pulisic and Cesar Azpilicueta overturned Burak Yilmaz's opener from the penalty spot to send them into the quarter-finals.

Louis Saha dreams of Manchester United appointing Zinedine Zidane but insisted the club's players must respect whichever manager is in place if they are to succeed.

United have underwhelmed in the first half of the Premier League season, sitting in seventh under the interim management of Ralf Rangnick after the dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Former RB Leipzig coach Rangnick has overseen three wins and a draw in his opening four league games, but is only in temporary charge until the end of the season when the potential for a two-year consultancy role will come into play.

United have already confirmed they will seek out a long-term replacement at the end of the season, which could still end up being the German manager, with the likes of Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino being proposed by many as the leading candidates.

Saha placed his backing in fellow Frenchman Zidane, who has been without a club since leaving Real Madrid last May, as the former United striker outlined the sort of appointment he believes the club requires.

He told Stats Perform: "I feel like anyone who has proved in some way in some capacity, I think Pochettino is one of them.

"But anyone who has proved that you can build a team and make them improve in a way to win the Premier League as [Jurgen] Klopp has done, I think will have the job.

"We need to have the right manager who is able to really give that boost. We've seen this with Ralf on the touchline, that kind of energy, those guys, especially when you have three-quarters of the squad that is quite young – you need to have someone with that kind of energy. 

"I don't want to put Pochettino above anyone. In my dream, I think about Zidane. There are definitely good names that I've heard in the last few weeks. 

"But yes, those are names and the most important is the fit where there is a project. Whoever is coming is not coming for two years because you want to attach his name to a big club."

Saha knows what it takes to win at Old Trafford, given he collected two Premier League titles and a Champions League triumph during his time in Manchester under Alex Ferguson between 2004 and 2008.

Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of United's key figures this campaign, but the pair were labelled as "whingebags" negatively influencing their team by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville following a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United.

Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes quashed any talk of discontent within the Red Devils dressing room as he stated his client's happiness on Friday and Saha believes United's managerial success will be built on respect.

"The formula I've seen that works is because you show respect and you have a very strong man-management," he added. "Ferguson at the time when I've seen that he had so many challenges because you get so much ego in the team. 

"People with a lot of trophies like Roy Keane, like Gary Neville, [Paul] Scholes or [Ruud] van Nistelrooy and you have the youth come in and have that sense of urgency, they want to win, they want to play and all those things. 

"You have to really show as much respect as strength and at the same time, humility. It's a very odd combination, but it's very important you have to really show that you are confident, strong.

"You need the support of everybody because the project is a team thing. So those are the ways to manage because everyone will give them respect. If you miss this thing. You're in trouble."

Asked whether Saha thought that was United's current problem with leadership, he responded: "Yeah, definitely. That's not a problem about talent. That's not a problem about not winning. 

"They want to win, but they don't have the formula, the people around who give them the right indication."

France manager Didier Deschamps has denied advising Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain and Ligue 1 at the end of the season.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid at the end of the current campaign when his contract at PSG expires, with little sign of the 22-year-old sensation signing an extension at the Parc des Princes.

In an interview with RMC Sport, Deschamps was adamant that he did not suggest that Mbappe should leave the French top flight for another country.

"It's bull***t to say that I said [Mbappe] had to leave France," he exclaimed. "I never said that, neither for him nor for anyone else.

"This is not to denigrate Ligue 1. Compared to the requirements of the France team, which is the top international level, the more they will be used to top level matches in their daily life in the championship or the European Cup and the closer they get to the level of requirement.

"This is not the case at Real [Madrid] when they play other teams in LaLiga. This is not the case for Bayern [Munich] in their league. Kylian will choose, it's his choice. It’s not a problem if he stays in Paris."

Deschamps' own contract situation was also raised, with the 53-year-old giving little away on his long-term future as the national team boss, insisting that it is a decision for French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet. Deschamps' current deal runs out after the 2022 World Cup next December.

"I don't know. In all honesty, I don't know. I don't care," he said. "It's my president who decides. The only person and last to decide is the president. He will decide. I don't have to. I have not extended yet, that's how it is.

"The most important contract is the contract of confidence. The situation is like that and I don't have a problem.

"It's a possibility to continue. Coaching is another job. I'm not going to forbid myself something. I am fulfilled as a coach.... I am at the top level with the best players and the best competitions. It has always been a possibility to continue. I do not close any doors."

The former Juventus and Monaco boss was also asked about the potential for his eventual replacement in charge of Les Bleus to be his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane, who has been heavily linked with the role since leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season.

La Graet indicated in a recent interview that 'Zizou' will be considered as a future candidate to take the reins after Deschamps.

"I took Laurent Blanc's place; someone will take my place," Deschamps added. "It will be Zizou or another. It's not the fact that I like it or not, the conditions have to be met. Zizou has a link with the France team. With him we said that he would be coach when he launched his career. If he wants to and if the conditions are met, so much the better.

"Zidane has been talking about it since 2016 and 2018. It is not the president who spoke about it. He has the right to answer. He can say what he wants, that is not a problem. Whether it is Zizou or another. I'm not going to comment on my president's words but he also said that it was inappropriate to ask about my future."

France manager Didier Deschamps has denied advising Kylian Mbappe to leave Paris Saint-Germain and Ligue 1 at the end of the season.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with a move to Real Madrid at the end of the current campaign when his contract at PSG expires, with little sign of the 22-year-old sensation signing an extension at the Parc des Princes.

In an interview with RMC Sport, Deschamps was adamant that he did not suggest that Mbappe should leave the French top flight for another country.

"It's bull***t to say that I said [Mbappe] had to leave France," he exclaimed. "I never said that, neither for him nor for anyone else.

"This is not to denigrate Ligue 1. Compared to the requirements of the France team, which is the top international level, the more they will be used to top level matches in their daily life in the championship or the European Cup and the closer they get to the level of requirement.

"This is not the case at Real [Madrid] when they play other teams in LaLiga. This is not the case for Bayern [Munich] in their league. Kylian will choose, it's his choice. It’s not a problem if he stays in Paris."

Deschamps' own contract situation was also raised, with the 53-year-old giving little away on his long-term future as the national team boss, insisting that it is a decision for French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet. Deschamps' current deal runs out after the 2022 World Cup next December.

"I don't know. In all honesty, I don't know. I don't care," he said. "It's my president who decides. The only person and last to decide is the president. He will decide. I don't have to. I have not extended yet, that's how it is.

"The most important contract is the contract of confidence. The situation is like that and I don't have a problem.

"It's a possibility to continue. Coaching is another job. I'm not going to forbid myself something. I am fulfilled as a coach.... I am at the top level with the best players and the best competitions. It has always been a possibility to continue. I do not close any doors."

The former Juventus and Monaco boss was also asked about the potential for his eventual replacement in charge of Les Bleus to be his former team-mate Zinedine Zidane, who has been heavily linked with the role since leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season.

La Graet indicated in a recent interview that 'Zizou' will be considered as a future candidate to take the reins after Deschamps.

"I took Laurent Blanc's place; someone will take my place," Deschamps added. "It will be Zizou or another. It's not the fact that I like it or not, the conditions have to be met. Zizou has a link with the France team. With him we said that he would be coach when he launched his career. If he wants to and if the conditions are met, so much the better.

"Zidane has been talking about it since 2016 and 2018. It is not the president who spoke about it. He has the right to answer. He can say what he wants, that is not a problem. Whether it is Zizou or another. I'm not going to comment on my president's words but he also said that it was inappropriate to ask about my future."

Erling Haaland is the name on everyone's lips.

His exploits for Bundesliga outfit Borussia Dortmund have sparked a frenzy among Europe's elite.

With Haaland attracting interest, Dortmund are making moves to replace the Norway international.

 

TOP STORY – ADEYEMI TO SUCCEED HAALAND?

Borussia Dortmund are working on a deal to sign Salzburg's Karim Adeyemi as a replacement for in-demand star Erling Haaland, according to Fabrizio Romano's Here We Go podcast.

Haaland is wanted all over Europe amid links with Manchester United, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Juventus.

As speculation mounts over Haaland, Dortmund are reportedly preparing for his departure with a move for Salzburg sensation and Germany international Adeyemi.

Barca, Bayern and Liverpool are reportedly interested in Adeyemi.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool lead the chase to sign Dortmund star Jude Bellingham, says The Mirror. As Europe's elite eye Haaland, Liverpool are looking to pounce on Bellingham who has been linked with Chelsea and United.

- Todofichajes reports head coach Mauricio Pochettino has lost the faith of the Paris Saint-Germain dressing room. Pochettino has emerged as United's rumoured top target to lead the Red Devils long term, with Zinedine Zidane tipped to replace him in Paris.

Bayern have joined the race to sign Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, per Romano. Zakaria has been linked with Roma, Liverpool, City, Juve and Barca.

Milan and Barca are eyeing Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen, per Romano. The Denmark international has been in contract talks at Stamford Bridge.

Raphael Varane learned a lot from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and has compared the recently departed Manchester United boss to ex-Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane.

France international Varane joined United from Madrid in August and spent three months working under Solskjaer before the Norwegian was dismissed by the Red Devils two weeks ago.

Solskjaer left Old Trafford having failed to win any silverware in his three years at the helm, which is in stark contrast to the 11 trophies lifted by Zidane across two spells as Madrid boss, with Varane a key player under his compatriot.

Despite appearing just nine times for new club United prior to Solskjaer's exit in what has been an injury-plagued start to his Old Trafford tenure, Varane was impressed by Solskjaer's coaching ability.

"I spoke with him before signing. He's a very good person and humble with important values and in the short time here he taught me a lot of things, values and a lot of things about the club, the mentality of the club," Varane told The Times.

"He represents a lot of things of this club: very respectful, humble. He always tried to do his best. Sometimes when you speak about something sensitive, it's like a bit negative because it's like a weakness. But it's not true. It's a strength.

"When he speaks with a player, he's honest. It's important for a manager to be honest with his players and especially this point it's similar with Zidane. Maybe that's why I like this feeling. It was a short time working with him but I learn a lot."

Varane won three LaLiga titles and four Champions League crowns among an array of other trophies during a decade-long spell at Madrid that saw him rack up over 350 appearances in the Spanish capital.

However, the 28-year-old says he and his Madrid colleagues could not always celebrate their triumphs as winning titles is what was expected of them, something that played a part in his decision to leave the club.

"After winning the Champions League, the fans don't congratulate you," he told The Telegraph. "It was 'OK, the next one' after the first one I won.

"Four Champions Leagues! And they tell me, 'OK, go to the next one'. I just want to say sometimes you have to enjoy what you have. It was good!"

Varane added: "Sometimes I wanted to push the pause button, find some time to celebrate. That's why Madrid are special. It's because of this special mentality too.

"It's different. That's why I wanted to change, not because I don't like this mentality or because it's bad. It's very good, but I just wanted to try something different."

Paris Saint-Germain remain hopeful of reopening contract talks with Kylian Mbappe and want him to win the Ballon d'Or with the club, president Nasser Al-Khelaifi declared.

Al-Khelaifi also dismissed speculation that PSG want to replace head coach Mauricio Pochettino with Zinedine Zidane.

Speaking after Lionel Messi became the first player from the club to win Ballon d'Or honours – largely attributed to him winning the Copa America with Argentina – Al-Khelaifi made his position known about the burning issues affecting PSG.

There have been deep worries that Mbappe will walk away on a free transfer at the end of the season, when his current deal expires. Real Madrid wanted him in the last transfer window and are expected to move again. Unless Mbappe commits to a new deal, he would be free to talk to the likes of Madrid from January.

But Al-Khelaifi can see a future in which Mbappe continues to terrorise defences in a PSG shirt, just as he is currently doing in tandem with former Barcelona captain Messi.

The PSG president addressed that within the context of Messi's award success, saying: "For the club, it is the first, I hope it is not the last. I hope that other players will win it, starting with Kylian. I'm sure he wants to win it."

Speaking to L'Equipe, Al-Khelaifi said of the 22-year-old striker's future: "You know what I think, Kylian is a great player, a great man. Kylian knows what he wants to do, us too."

On the potential for new contract talks, the PSG president added, according to RMC Sport: "We hope."

It remains to be seen whether either Mbappe or Pochettino stay in Paris beyond the end of this season.

There have been persistent rumours that PSG would consider swapping Pochettino for former Real Madrid boss Zidane, but Al-Khelaifi threw his support behind the Argentine coach currently at the helm.

"Pochettino is our coach and he is happy to be with us, we are happy to work with him," Al-Khelaifi said.

"He is doing a good job. Everyone needs time. I see all the rumours, we have to stop talking about this, it's not true.

"We're truly happy with the coach. We haven't had any contact with Zidane. He's a great coach, but we also have a very good one."

Julen Lopetegui has come a long way. Very little highlights that more than the fact he has been mentioned as a potential long-term successor to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United.

While such a move probably won't occur, with Mauricio Pochettino seemingly the likeliest to walk through the door at Old Trafford at the end of the season, the speculation is at least a vindication of the work Lopetegui has done at Sevilla over the past two and a half years.

Of course, it wasn't long before his hiring by Sevilla that Lopetegui seemed to be the butt of all jokes in Spanish football, with the situation surrounding his Spain departure attracting criticism before he was swiftly shown the exit by Real Madrid.

But he is a coach who really has put in the hard graft, having quickly lost his first ever job in management before then opting to refine his skills in youth coaching, steadily working his way up to prominence.

His football may not be universally popular, but Lopetegui has restored his reputation in an emphatic way.

Julen's gambit

Lopetegui saw the writing was on the wall.

"I know the culture of the club. I am identified with [the club] and with its fans. I am not surprised by a dismissal because football depends on results and we are not achieving them," he said.

While you'd think that might sound like what Lopetegui would have said after getting dismissed by Madrid, it was actually a frank response to being ditched by Rayo Vallecano back in 2003.

Rayo, whom Lopetegui finished his playing career with, were in the second tier and won just one of their first 10 league matches under their new, inexperienced coach. They went on to suffer a second successive relegation.

Although getting sacked wasn't a surprise for Lopetegui, it seemed to shock him into something of a rethink – he returned to his first professional club as a player, Real Madrid, in 2006 as their head of international scouting, and two years later he was in charge of the 'B' team, Castilla.

That was the first of several roles focused on youth coaching, which would see him looking after Spain's Under-19s, Under-20s and Under-21s over the following six years. Two seasons with Porto reintroduced him to senior club football, before Spain came calling again.

This time it wasn't an age-group role, it was the real deal. Lopetegui took over from Vicente del Bosque in 2016 and set about establishing a new dynasty for La Roja.

 

It was a largely positive two years. Ahead of the World Cup, he had presided over 20 matches for Spain, winning 14 of them and losing none.

That made him the Spain coach to have overseen the most games without losing, while his 70 per cent winning record is second only to Del Bosque (76 per cent) among those to preside over at least 15 games.

Goals weren't hard to come by either. Sure, World Cup qualification in Europe can bring about some lopsided results that boost averages, but still, Spain's 3.1 goals per game under Lopetegui remains the best of any Spain coach (min. 15 matches).

However, his decision to enter a post-World Cup agreement with Real Madrid, which was announced just a few days before Spain's campaign was due to begin, did not go down well with the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He was sacked and Fernando Hierro was brought in at short notice to preside over an ultimately disappointing Russia 2018.

Many criticised Lopetegui; some understood why he'd accepted the Madrid opportunity, others suspected it to be a poisoned chalice.

Predictable Perez

Given what he said after being sacked by Rayo some 15 years earlier, why Lopetegui saw Florentino Perez as the patient type was mystifying.

"Real Madrid is still alive. This is still October, we have done some good things, made a lot of chances, and we will try and improve and be more effective. We are ready to play a game of this size and these demands," he said prior to what proved to be his final match in charge.

After the game, that appraisal turned to: "I feel sad, but I want to remain in charge. It's a big blow, but I'm strong enough to know everything can be turned around. I have a lot of faith in this group of players."

Only, Lopetegui wasn't given the chance to turn it around, as we all know, for a 5-1 demolition by Barcelona in El Clasico brought an abrupt end to his brief 14-match stint at the helm. In football terms, there was surely no greater humiliation for a Madrid coach.

 

It was only the third time this century Madrid have conceded five times to Barca in LaLiga, and it meant Los Blancos had lost three league games on the bounce – again, this has only happened on two other occasions since January 2000.

Of course, there's lots to be said for why Lopetegui failed at Madrid. For one, his first-choice full-backs Dani Carvajal and Marcelo were in and out of the team, and such positions carry great importance for Lopetegui.

Additionally, let's not forget this was a Madrid very much in transition after the departure – and failed replacement – of Cristiano Ronaldo. It was seemingly expected that Karim Benzema would instantly pick up Ronaldo's slack, despite only passing 20 league goals in two of his previous nine LaLiga seasons. The Portugal star never went below 25 in his nine campaigns in Spain.

 

While Benzema did ultimately score 21 times in the league, only four of those (one via the penalty spot) – split across two games – came during Lopetegui's 10 games. Decisiveness in the final third was a real issue for the team, demonstrated by the fact they failed to beat Levante despite having 34 shots and set a new club record of 481 minutes without a league goal.

But Zinedine Zidane, Lopetegui's predecessor, saw this coming. As he bade farewell to the club alongside Perez just 15 days after winning a third successive Champions League title, the Frenchman spoke persistently about "change" and openly acknowledged he thought "it would be difficult to keep winning if I stayed".

Whether that was down to insufficient investment in the first team, the likelihood of retaining such high standards in the Champions League or a combination of both is unclear, but it would seem his successor was always on a hiding to nothing.

 

From rock-bottom to redemption

Lopetegui left Madrid with the second-worst win percentage (42.9 per cent) across all competitions in the club's history (min. two games), better only than Amancio (40.9).

 

But his record and impact at Sevilla couldn't realistically be much more of a contrast. Over his first 100 matches in charge in Nervion in all competitions, Lopetegui's 59 wins were a joint-record for the club.

It's almost fitting that his 100th career LaLiga match as a coach will come against his former team this weekend – it would be an even sweeter occasion were he to mastermind his first ever victory over Madrid, as success for Sevilla on Sunday will move them above Los Blancos and potentially put them top.

LaLiga is shaping up to be the closest it's been in years. Whether that's down to a dip in quality across Spain's top flight or not is a debate for another time, but Sevilla certainly looked well-placed to mount a challenge for the title having ultimately fallen just short in the final weeks of 2020-21.

At the very least, they are surely on track to finish in the top four in three successive seasons for only the second time since the Spanish Civil War, and it's this kind of consistency that's undoubtedly caught the attention of Man United, whom he defeated en route to 2019-20 Europa League success.

There are reasons to suggest he could be the sort of 'system coach' United need, as well. He's turned Sevilla into a side who dominate the ball, with their 64.4 per cent average possession for the season second only to Barcelona (65.8), while only the Catalans and Madrid have attempted and completed more passes.

But where many teams who like to dominate possession tend to press high, Sevilla do much more of their pressing in the middle third of the pitch – working with a striker like Ronaldo, who's engaged in just 113 pressures in the Premier League this season, ranking 30th at his position, may not be such an issue.

 

For example, Sevilla's 61 high turnovers are 10 fewer than any other LaLiga team this season, yet they have allowed opponents to have just four build-ups (sequences of 10 or more passes) that resulted in a shot or touch in the box. The next best record here is 10 (Barca and Villarreal).

This theoretically then gives Sevilla the chance to showcase their strength in picking through a counter-press, which is demonstrated by their 73 high turnovers against being the third-lowest in the division – none have led to a goal.

 

After getting by on individual quality and a helping of nostalgia for nearly three years, United need a coach who has proven he can mould a team to his philosophy – Sevilla may not be the most exhilarating team to watch, but they are effective and Lopetegui got results very quickly.

Certainly, Lopetegui ending up at Old Trafford any time soon isn't likely, but if Sevilla continue to churn out results in LaLiga and make themselves a genuine silverware rival to Los Blancos and Atletico Madrid, it's only a matter of time before Europe's biggest clubs come poking around. 

Where Lopetegui once saw Madrid as his greatest opportunity, he hopefully now just sees them as a mere obstacle in his quest for a crowning achievement: winning Sevilla their first title since the 1940s.

Mauricio Pochettino has not asked to leave Paris Saint-Germain and no talks have been held with Zinedine Zidane, the club's sporting director, Leonardo, has said.

Speculation has persisted that Pochettino is one of Manchester United's top targets to succeed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager.

The Red Devils have reportedly identified the Argentine as a leading candidate, most likely for the end of the season, with Ralf Rangnick poised to take over on an interim basis for the rest of 2021-22.

The former Spurs boss, who is keen to return to the Premier League according to some reports, refused to quash the rumours following his side's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday.

It has also been claimed that PSG have spoken several times with former Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane over the prospect of taking charge should Pochettino ask to leave.

However, Leonardo insists there has been no contact from any club about Pochettino, who is under contract until the end of next season.

"I think it's important to clarify the situation given the amount of false information circulating. Mauricio Pochettino is under contract with the club until 2023," he told AFP.

"We do not want Pochettino to leave. He never asked to leave and no club contacted us in relation to him."

Leonardo also denied claims that PSG officials met with Zidane at Paris' prestigious Royal Monceau hotel to discuss the prospect of taking charge.

"We have a lot of respect for Zinedine Zidane, for what he did as a player and coach, but I can tell you very clearly that there is no contact and that no meeting with him has taken place," he said.

"It's ridiculous to imagine that a meeting with Zinedine Zidane could have taken place in a big hotel in Paris in front of the eyes of everyone."

PSG, who lead Ligue 1 by 11 points after 14 rounds, are next in action at Saint-Etienne on Sunday.

Zinedine Zidane is not interested in the Manchester United job but he could replace the man who gets it. 

The hottest name in the mix at Old Trafford is Mauricio Pochettino. 

Paris Saint-Germain could have a replacement for him ready and waiting. 

 

TOP STORY – POCHETTINO, ZIDANE IN DELICATE DANCE

Manchester United's manager opening could set off a chain reaction, reports Marca. 

With Mauricio Pochettino perhaps interested in a way out at Paris Saint-Germain, he could head to Old Trafford. 

That would leave the PSG job to Zinedine Zidane, who has made it clear he is not interested in moving to Manchester. 

The Mirror reports United would have to pay PSG €10million (£8.4m) for Pochettino, but Marca says PSG's players believe Zidane's arrival at the Parc des Princes could be "imminent". 

 

 ROUND-UP

- Bayern Munich are willing to make Pedri their most expensive signing ever if they can lure him from Barcelona despite his €1billion release clause, reports AS. 

- If Alexandre Lacazette leaves Arsenal for LaLiga, he would prefer Atletico Madrid over Barca, according to El Nacional. Milan and Marseille also reportedly are interested in the 30-year-old. 

- Renato Sanches could be headed for Milan after the season, reports Calciomercato, with Arsenal and Barca also linked to the Lille midfielder. 

- Villarreal are eyeing Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic for a January move, reports the Mirror. 

Manchester United's managerial post is vacant after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked on Sunday.

Solskjaer had led United since December 2018 but failed to win a trophy, finishing runners-up in last season's Premier League and Europa League.

The lean spell has United desperate to return to their former glories with their next managerial appointment.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE NOT KEEN ON MAN UTD JOB

World Cup winner and ex-Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane is not interested in the vacant Manchester United job, reports BBC Sport.

Zidane left Madrid in May after failing to win LaLiga and has been linked with a host of roles since.

United have approached the 49-year-old about their vacant post but he is not interested in the position at this point.

 ROUND-UP

- Fichajes claims that reported United target Mauricio Pochettino would put Tottenham's Harry Kane at the top of his wishlist if he got the Red Devils job. The current Paris Saint-Germain boss is among those linked with the vacant post. The Telegraph claims that Pochettino is open to moving to Old Trafford at the end of this season.

- Ajax boss Erik ten Hag is United's second choice behind Pochettino reports Sky Sports, while The Sun claims the Red Devils have already approached Leicester City's Brendan Rodgers.

- Sport claims that new Barcelona boss Xavi wants to sign Al-Sadd's Algeria international striker Baghdad Bounedjah. Xavi coached Al-Sadd until taking over at Barca earlier this month.

- Tottenham may make a move for Roma midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo who is unhappy at the club, claims Calciomercato.

- Fichajes reports that Real Madrid have an interest in Mason Mount, who is currently in talks with Chelsea on a new deal. Manchester City and Bayern Munich are also interested in Mount's services.

Page 1 of 11
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.