Spring: Spurs players surprise Mourinho’s position on Bale | USMNT star teams with Messi’s brother | Bottman in high demand | Chelsea want Giroud to stay | Old Trafford pitch is perfect | The pitch at Old Trafford is perfect.
Man United compete with Chelsea for rice
Manchester United are set to compete with Chelsea for the position of West Ham midfielder Declan Rice next summer, according to ESPN sources.
Coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to rebuild the team at the end of the season with a striker, a central defender and a defensive midfielder. January does not promise to be a busy month in terms of departures, although United have completed the move of Amad Diallo from Serie A club Atalanta and several players from the periphery, including defender Marcos Rojo and goalkeeper Sergio Romero, could leave.
Rice, 22, is one of the midfield options for the summer and sources have told ESPN that he is aware of that interest, although United have agreed that Chelsea will be in pole position if he is allowed to leave West Ham this summer. The England international will have high transfer fees as he has a contract at West Ham until 2024, with an option for an additional year. Sources told ESPN that the Hammers hope the £70m fee will be enough to deter interested parties.
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United is prepared to wait until the start of next season, but Executive Vice President Ed Woodward told Solskjaer and his staff that he will remain cautious with the club’s funds while the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Solskjaer’s priority in signing a central midfielder will depend on the immediate future of Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has found his best form since his agent Mino Raiola announced that he wants to take the 27-year-old to a new club, although sources told ESPN that no new contract negotiations were planned.
Pogba still has 18 months left on his current contract, but United doubt Juventus and Real Madrid can afford the midfielder’s transfer fees and substantial salaries after he suffered an illness. — Rob Dawson
Declan Rice has many fans, with Manchester United competing for the West Ham star alongside Chelsea. Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Spurs player is surprised by Mourinho’s missed shot
Jose Mourinho’s sparing use of Gareth Bale has caught some Tottenham Hotspur players off guard, sources told ESPN.
The 31-year-old’s return to North London on loan from Real Madrid was a milestone, but he has made just four Premier League appearances and starts since returning to the club in September.
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Bale came in with a knee problem and it took him a long time to get back on his feet. He was not used as a substitute in the key games against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in November and early December, when he was in top form.
Sources told ESPN that Spurs players were impressed with Bale’s training performance and some expressed sympathy that he is not training more regularly.
Bale, who has only recently recovered from a calf problem, was again eliminated in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Fulham. Mourinho brought on Erik Lamela and Carlos Vinicius after Fulham equalised for the remaining 16 minutes.
There are no indications that Bale is unhappy – and it is thought that his poor performance against Leicester before Christmas still haunts Mourinho’s mind – but his teammates expect him to play a more influential role in the second half of the season.
Bale’s performance will determine whether Spurs take the option on loan for another season. Both sides are open to this possibility, but the playing time in Wales will probably have to increase to make it interesting. -James Ollie
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurence discuss the reasons for Gareth Bale’s lack of game time at Tottenham.
Barcelona Conrad joins forces with Messi’s brother
Barcelona and US international Conrad de la Fuente has hired Lionel Messi’s brother as his agent, sources confirmed to ESPN.
De la Fuente, 19, made his debut this season and played his first game for MNT Wales in November. The 19-year-old is one of many young Barca players being pursued by the game’s top agents.
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This particular race was won by Rodrigo Messi, who worked for several years as a player advisor and agent, including Ansu Fati, before the Spanish international opted for super-agent Jorge Mendes. Another of Barca’s most coveted youngsters is Elaix Moriba, who eventually signed for the Stellar Group.
De la Fuente signed a new contract at Camp Nou in June, tying him to the club until 2022. The deal includes a €50 million buyout clause, rising to €100 million if he officially moves on to the first team – he is still registered with Barca B – and the possibility of a two-year extension. He was thinking about his future before signing a contract and sources told ESPN that he had an interesting offer in Germany from Hertha Berlin.
Barca convinced him to stay and promised him a place in the first team. Since then he has impressed coach Ronald Koeman, who congratulated him on his pre-season and two Champions League appearances late last year. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Barcelona’s Conrad de la Fuente has caught the eye this season. Pedro Salado/Sports footage quality
Botman unlikely to move to Liverpool this month
Lille centre-back Sven Bothman is on the radar of several clubs in England, sources told ESPN, but the Ligue 1 club is desperate to keep him in this month’s window. Rumours that Liverpool would make an offer for the 21-year-old this month appear to be widespread, with another source claiming that there has been no contact between the two clubs.
Botman impressed for Ajax at Heerenveen last season and moved to Lille last summer to replace Gabriel, who moved to Arsenal. The 21-year-old has signed a five-year contract with Ligue 1 club and has shone this season with Lille in third place, one point behind league leaders Lyon.
Sources claim that the Dutch U-20 national team would receive a transfer fee of around £40m if he became available, and that several big English clubs have shown interest in him. — Julien Lawrence
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Giroud stays at Chelsea despite interest in Serie A
Chelsea want to keep Olivier Giroud until the end of the season despite the interest of Inter and Juventus Turin, sources told ESPN.
The arrival of Timo Werner in the summer prompted Giroud to put Stamford Bridge in order, but the German international struggled along with other newcomers from manager Frank Lampard. Giroud has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances and has become a key player for his boss under pressure.
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The French international was due to leave Chelsea FC in January this year as he wanted regular playing time ahead of Euro 2020. The Coronavia pandemic has led to the tournament being postponed, now scheduled for this summer, and sources have indicated that French coach Didier Deschamps is likely to include him in the Les Bleus squad.
The 34-year-old’s contract expires this summer and he could be in talks with clubs outside England this month, but Lampard will be able to count on Giroud for the rest of the season as he tries to keep Chelsea’s season on an inconsistent track. — Julien Lawrence
Phaseis ideal for Solskjaer UnitedList of titles
Manchester United are reaping the benefits of the bet they made at Old Trafford this summer, sources told ESPN.
Superintendent Tony Sinclair and his team decided to move the field to the off-season, despite the time constraints created by the reduced break between campaigns.
Sources told ESPN that it has paid off as the surface has weathered the rigours of winter well, compared to other Premier League clubs who have struggled to keep their pitches in good condition after opting to stay on the same pitches as last season.
Sinclair and his team were able to return the pitch in just nine weeks – it normally takes about 11 weeks in the summer – and sources told ESPN that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was impressed with his strong fitness throughout the holiday period.
Sinclair and his team won the 2019 Premier League’s Best Field of the Year award after being selected as match officials and delegates. — Rob Dawson