Rumour Has It: Barca eyeing midfield duo, Phillips on Man City's radar

By Sports Desk September 13, 2021

Are Barcelona set to make a splash in 2022?

After losing Lionel Messi on a free transfer due to their crippling debt, Barca are busy planning for next season.

Franck Kessie and Youri Tielemans are believed to be on the radar at Camp Nou.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING PAIR

Barcelona are targeting Milan star Franck Kessie and Leicester City midfielder Youri Tielemans, according to reports.

Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season and he is yet to re-sign at Milan amid links with Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham.

Mundo Deportivo claims LaLiga giants Barca are considering a move for the Ivory Coast international, as well as Tielemans – who is reportedly wanted by the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fichajes says Premier League champions Manchester City are plotting a bid for Leeds United and England star Kalvin Phillips.

Real Madrid are interested in Lyon's Rayan Cherki as a long-term replacement for Karim Benzema, per Fichajes. It comes as Madrid continue to pursue PSG's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

- Calciomercato claims Juventus are considering a move for Madrid left-back Ferland Mendy.

United are ready to rival Barca, Juve and Bayern Munich for RB Leipzig attacker Dani Olmo, according to Marca.

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  • False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez False promises and falling outs – the inevitable fall of Rafael Benitez

    The irony of Everton sacking Rafael Benitez on the day Carlo Ancelotti won the first trophy of his second Real Madrid stint was not lost on the Goodison Park faithful.

    Ancelotti stunned Everton in June by leaving to return to Madrid. While there can be no comparison between Los Blancos when it comes to allure, it cut deep that a manager who seemed committed to a long-term project on Merseyside, had left at the first opportunity.

    Not that Ancelotti's 18 months at Everton had been a roaring success. His final game was a 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City – the heaviest defeat of the Italian's managerial career, in his 1,167th match.

    That result condemned Everton to a 10th-placed finish. Just City and Manchester United won more away games last term in the Premier League, yet the Toffees suffered nine home defeats, with only the three relegated sides losing more on their own turf.

    But there was a feeling that Everton might have enough to push on under Ancelotti, should reinforcements arrive.

    Instead, it was former Liverpool boss Benitez, who had replaced Ancelotti for an ill-fated spell at Madrid in 2015, who arrived at Goodison.

    An unpopular pick among the fanbase, the Spaniard was always starting from behind the eight-ball.

    As was inevitable, the experiment failed. Benitez was sacked on Sunday after defeat at lowly Norwich City with Everton lingering six points above the bottom three after a run of one win in 13 league games (the club's joint-worst Premier League run) and facing the prospect of hiring a sixth permanent manager since 2016-17.

    False promises

    From Benitez's first news conference, it was clear that Everton, lavish spenders in recent years, were going to be cutting their cloth in line with tight financial limitations.

    "You have to work in the context of having a director of football, the board, and financial restrictions," he said after becoming only the second manager to take over Everton and Liverpool. "Talk the talk and walk the walk? I prefer to walk the walk."

    Only £1.7million was spent, but Everton started the league campaign brightly. Indeed, ahead of a September 13 game with Burnley, they had scored seven times, as many as they had in their last 10 games last term.

    After a 1-1 draw with United on October 2, Everton had 14 points from their seven Premier League games, the most since they had gone on to secure a fourth-place finish in the competition in 2004-05 (16). 

    Was that optimism built on solid foundations, though?

    Benitez's system was based on counter-attacking, with Everton happy to surrender possession. Only once before October had they had more than 50 per cent of the ball (51.71 v Burnley).

    It is a trend that has continued, with Everton – who have had more possession than only three top-flight teams across the season – only seeing more of the ball than their opponents on three further occasions. In each of those games, they lost.

    However, to be a counter-attacking team you must be solid, and Everton are not. They have shipped 34 goals, with only four teams having weaker defences, while 11 goals have been conceded from set-pieces, the second-worst figure in the league (Ancelotti's team only allowed 10 from dead-ball situations in 2020-21).

    But since Everton's woeful run started with a 1-0 defeat to West Ham on October 17, they have taken the lead just once – in a 5-2 home defeat to Watford. It is hard to sit back and play on the break if you are constantly chasing a game.

    In total, the Toffees have spent 36 per cent of games losing this season (when the ball has been in play), and only 12 per cent of the time ahead. West Ham (12) are the sole team to have gained more points from a losing position than Everton (11), so at least Benitez's men showed resolve on occasion.

    From October 17, Everton rank 18th for goals (11), 16th for shots on target (46/139), 12th for touches in the opposition box (259), 15th for chances created (93) and have the third-worst defence (27 goals conceded). They have an expected goals against (xGA) of 20.6 in that timeframe, the fourth-worst in the division. Their position is in no way false.

    Everton did play forward under Benitez (41.6 per cent of their passes were in an attacking direction, up from 32.9 per cent last season) but on only 86 occasions have they strung together a move of 10 passes or more, which ranks them 18th in the league, while their 490 passes/crosses is the fifth-lowest total.

    The bright sparks in that run have come from moments of inspiration. Demarai Gray's stunning winner against Arsenal or Richarlison's overhead kick at Norwich. Gray has been a standout performer, scoring five league goals from an xG of only 2.7, but it felt like there has been too much onus on the winger in recent weeks.

    Though injuries to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, Yerry Mina and Abdoulaye Doucoure must be taken into account, Benitez's mantra became "I know what the fans want", but he appeared to be talking the talk rather than walking the walk. 

    Falling outs

    With Everton craving stability and unity, it is odd that owner Farhad Moshiri (more on him later) turned to Benitez, who was never the right pick to unite the fanbase or stabilise the club.

    He has fallen out with owners, sporting directors and high-profile players at previous clubs and, indeed, his time at Everton proved no different.

    Director of football Marcel Brands, who signed a contract extension in April, was moved on when Everton fans protested over the running of the club back in December, following a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool. 

    Evertonians' worst nightmare had played out, their rivals singing Benitez's name at Goodison after a humiliating defeat. It was the first time the Reds scored four goals in an away league derby since a 5-0 win in 1982, and Brands paid the price. His recruitment department followed, with director of medical services Dan Donachie having already left.

    Everton offered their full backing to Benitez and five days later, claimed a vital win over Arsenal. But a cloud hung over that victory.

    Since his arrival at Everton, Lucas Digne was second only to Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold for chances created by a Premier League defender (211). The France international had spoken openly of having been asked to play a more defensive role under Benitez, though behind the scenes matters appeared to boil over in a reported training-ground row.

    Digne was dropped and did not return bar, for reasons known only to Benitez himself, to take a seat on the bench in a 3-2 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion. The full-back received applause from the crowd when he warmed up, but did not come on despite Everton needing an equaliser late on in a game in which they only made two changes.

    Last week, Digne was sold to Aston Villa. The sale eases the financial issues but leaves Everton without their third-most creative player (22 key passes) in the league this term. Indeed, only Andros Townsend (2.13) has crafted more opportunities for them this season than Digne (1.69) per 90 minutes.

    With Digne and James Rodriguez, who left for Qatar in September, gone and Gylfi Sigurdsson not involved, Everton are without all three of their leading creators from 2020-21.

    Moshiri mayhem

    Benitez leaves with a 26.3 win percentage from 19 league games. Only Mike Walker performed worse in the Premier League era. His dismissal should have come sooner, it seemed pointless delaying the inevitable.

    But for his faults, he is not the root cause of Everton's issues and owner Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright must look in the mirror.

    Since Moshiri took over in 2016, Everton have recorded 1.37 points per game, ranking them 10th in the league, but a vast amount of investment has been made. So, what next?

    Roberto Martinez, who was sacked in 2016, is reportedly a leading candidate. The Belgium boss won 21 Premier League games in his first season in charge at Everton, guiding them to a record points total of 72, but he won just 22 games combined across the next two years.

    Lucien Favre has also been mooted. He averaged 2.08 points per game at Borussia Dortmund, a figure bettered by only Thomas Tuchel (2.09) and new boss Marco Rose (2.11), while the Swiss led the club to their third-best Bundesliga points tally in 2017-18. He could provide experience and a modern approach.

    Graham Potter seems to have ruled himself out. Wayne Rooney is doing terrific work at Derby County, might he be an option?

    For now though, Everton's immediate focus must be on avoiding a relegation scrap. 

    Assistant Duncan Ferguson, who remained unbeaten in the league in his spell in charge prior to Ancelotti's arrival, seems a logical pick to take over on a temporary basis, with Villa visiting Goodison on Saturday, to perhaps provide some of the spark missing during Benitez's doomed tenure and buy Everton time to make the right choice.

    With just 19 points from the first half of the season, their lowest tally at the halfway stage of a season since 2005-06 (17), Everton cannot afford to get this appointment wrong, too.

  • Milan 1-2 Spezia: Wasteful Rossoneri miss chance to go top in dramatic defeat Milan 1-2 Spezia: Wasteful Rossoneri miss chance to go top in dramatic defeat

    Milan slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat to Spezia as Emmanuel Gyasi scored with almost the final kick of a thriller at San Siro.

    Title rivals Inter drew 0-0 with Atalanta on Sunday, but Milan could not take advantage the following day as Spezia came from behind in incredible fashion.

    Rafael Leao put Milan ahead after Theo Hernandez's penalty miss, but Kevin Agudelo levelled midway through the second half.

    Milan were furious when Junior Messias' fine late effort was struck off due to a premature whistle from the referee, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic then hitting the crossbar.

    And Gyasi had the final say, slotting home in the 96th minute to sensationally earn Spezia's first league win at San Siro.

  • Sevilla slam Betis players' conduct and apparent mocking of Jordan injury Sevilla slam Betis players' conduct and apparent mocking of Jordan injury

    Sevilla have slammed Real Betis players for appearing to mock the head injury suffered by Joan Jordan when hit by an object thrown from the stands in their contentious Copa del Rey clash.

    As Betis players celebrated Nabil Fekir's equaliser at the Benito Villamarin on Saturday, an object – seemingly a long strip of plastic – was thrown from a home section behind the goal and struck Jordan right in front of referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea.

    Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui called his players over as Jordan received medical attention on the touchline, and Bengoetxea subsequently ushered the teams off the pitch – many Betis players remained pitchside until the match was eventually suspended.

    The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) arranged for the remaining 51 minutes to be played behind closed doors on Sunday despite Sevilla protesting the game should not be allowed to go ahead without Jordan, who was unavailable after being sent to hospital to be kept under medical supervision. Betis went on to win 2-1.

    After the initial incident, several Betis players took to social media to openly accuse Jordan and Sevilla of milking the situation; Cristian Tello posted a video of the Sevilla midfielder defiantly slapping his own face in the direction of the home fans, which Willian Jose shared alongside several clown emojis.

    Tello claimed Sevilla did not want to play, while Victor Camarasa accused Lopetegui of encouraging Jordan to exaggerate his condition – but Andres Guardado has attracted the most attention.

    Following the victory on Sunday, Mexican veteran Guardado was caught on camera appearing to mock Jordan's injury by hitting himself on the head with a bottle and theatrically throwing himself to the floor.

    He claimed that "at no time was I making fun of the act suffered by Jordan", but Sevilla have been left feeling "alone" in their attempts to ensure derby tension is only felt on the pitch.

    "Sevilla strongly condemns the humiliation and attacks on honour suffered by our player Joan Jordan and the lack of respect towards our coach, Julen Lopetegui, about whom unsubstantiated comments have been made based on self-serving speculation," a statement read.

    "The reality is that Jordan received the impact of an object thrown from one of the stands occupied by Real Betis fans during last Saturday's Copa del Rey derby, played at the Benito Villamarin.

    "No one should ignore the objective data. Jordan was attacked, was treated in a hospital, had to rest at home due to medical prescription and was unable to play in the resumption of the game.

    "The victim is Jordan. There is never room for mockery with a victim or comments to divert attention from what happened, a very serious incident.

    "In this sense, Sevilla considers certain behaviour by some members of Real Betis towards Joan Jordan, Julen Lopetegui and the Sevilla fans to be unfortunate and unacceptable, seriously compromising the healthy rivalry that is generally experienced in the city of Seville.

    "Sevilla believes that sports institutions and those who make them up must be the first to promote the values ​​of respect and tolerance that are intrinsic to sport.

    "Sevilla will continue working to reduce the tension and working so that the tension in the derbies is experienced only and exclusively within the field of play, although we feel alone in this mission."

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