Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag confirmed Hakim Ziyech is set to join Chelsea at the end of the season, admitting he expected the star forward to leave "one or two years earlier".

Reports on Wednesday emerged that Eredivisie champions Ajax and Premier League giants Chelsea reached a verbal agreement on a €45million (£38m) transfer for Ziyech.

Ziyech came off the bench during Wednesday's 3-0 KNVB Beker victory at Vitesse and Ten Hag provided an update on the 26-year-old Morocco international.

"Ziyech to Chelsea? A transfer was coming, we expected it to happen," Ten Hag told Fox Sports post-game.

"I actually already expected this one or two years earlier. And each time it was: 'Wow, he stayed again'.

"We are just happy that we will still have him until the end of the season."

Ziyech has been directly involved in 166 goals since his Eredivisie debut in 2012-13, contributing 79 goals and 87 assists.

Since joining Ajax from Twente in 2016, Ziyech has scored 38 league goals and 48 across all competitions.

Ziyech's sensational tally of 51 Eredivisie assists from the beginning of the 2016-17 campaign is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest during that period, while his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than his nearest rival.

Ten Hag added: "I am not surprised by the news about Ziyech. I know that our players are very popular with the big clubs in Europe. That is just great.

"I have known for a long time what Hakim wants. He has a picture in mind. He knows exactly which clubs he finds interesting and which ones are not. 

"Chelsea are a fantastic club. When it is final, I am very happy for Hakim, and I am very proud of him."

Each close-season transfer window has a defining 'saga' and everything points to the next revolving around Jadon Sancho and Manchester United.

Media reports began to circulate on Wednesday claiming Sancho is set to leave Borussia Dortmund at the end of the season, having emerged as one of world football's next great hopes since joining from Manchester City.

The England international seems likely to return home later this year and United are rumoured to be leading the chase, ready to pay £120million for his signature.

United's issues on the flanks are nothing new. For several years they have seemingly operated with a bizarre square-pegs-round-holes policy, assigning numerous players who clearly aren't wingers to wide roles.

We looked at the data to understand how Sancho stacks up with United's current attacking options.

A PROLIFIC CREATOR

It's difficult to imagine Sancho joining United and not having a swift and decisive impact. The only other genuine winger in their squad is Daniel James, and while the Wales international has enjoyed a solid debut season after a shock move, he has faded recently and clearly lacks a certain presence.

After Andreas Pereira (31), Fred (30) and Marcus Rashford (24), James (23) has created the most Premier League chances for United this term and his haul of six assists isn't matched by any of his team-mates.

By comparison, Sancho has laid on 47 opportunities for team-mates in the Bundesliga this season, the fifth-highest in the division, and his haul of 13 assists is the same amount as James, Anthony Martial and Rashford combined.

SUBTLETY IN THE FINAL THIRD

The United squad isn't exactly blessed with lots of physical attackers renowned for their aerial ability, which suggests hooking hopeful crosses into the box does not represent a fertile route to goal.

For the most part, United forwards aren't desperate to cross, with Pereira (28), Rashford (19) and Martial (7) often looking for alternative ways to penetrate the box, but James (79) is the 11th most-frequent crosser in the league, even if he's some way off Trent Alexander-Arnold (159).

Sancho fits in more with the former group, supplying only 22 crosses this season. Perhaps such a low figure is justified by the fact only five per cent were accurate.

Nevertheless, this does suggest Sancho is more subtle and deliberate with his creativity, and given he has crafted comfortably more chances and goals than the United contingent, it is difficult to argue he should alter his style.

A KEY INFLUENCE

As someone who creates so many opportunities, it wouldn't be unusual to expect Sancho to be somewhat wayward in possession, given the necessity to take risks.

But 80 per cent of his 496 passes into the final third have been accurate. Of the 284 Bundesliga players to play at least 50 passes into that part of the pitch, only 11 have greater accuracy than Sancho, though none of those attempted more than 308.

Martial, Fred, Mason Greenwood, Luke Shaw, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all been more accurate in the final third, but Sancho has attempted far more passes, while none of them have got anywhere close to the Dortmund star's chance creation record.

DEADLY WHEN IT MATTERS

Sancho's not just a creator, however.

As well as his 13 assists, Sancho has also chipped in with 12 Bundesliga goals this season, a figure bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (22) and Timo Werner (20).

Those 12 goals came from 37 attempts, meaning he is averaging almost a goal every three shots, comfortably better than Martial (17 per cent of 48 shots) and Rashford (19 per cent of 74 shots).

A complete player in attack, Sancho offers an all-round threat that United simply do not possess.

He also appears to be the ideal player for United stylistically, with his attributes and dynamism similar to the likes of Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, around whom club seem intent on building their future.

Will Sancho be the next to join that trio?

Hakim Ziyech will need little introduction to Chelsea fans if the Morocco international does complete his move to Stamford Bridge from Ajax.

Ziyech was one of the best players on the pitch during a barnstorming 4-4 draw in November's Champions League clash.

Kepa Arrizabalaga may have been credited with an own goal but it was Ziyech's sensational bending free-kick from the right touchline that did the damage as the visitors opened up a 3-1 half-time lead.

Next season, the 26-year-old appears destined to play much more regularly at the Bridge, with reports claiming the Blues have agreed a £38million deal for the attacking midfielder.

Predominantly employed on the right, Ziyech can also play as a number 10 and here we have used Opta data to take a closer look at an exciting talent.


THE EREDIVISIE'S MASTER CREATOR

Ziyech has been one of the Eredivisie's top performers since breaking into the first team at Heerenveen in 2012 having risen through the club's youth teams.

After a two-year stop at Twente, Ziyech moved to Ajax in August 2016 where his performances domestically and in Europe have seen his star continue to rise.

Since his switch to the Johan Cruijff ArenA, only four players can boast a higher goals return than his 38 while his sensational tally of 51 Eredivisie assists is 16 better than the 35 of Steven Berghuis, the next highest on the list.

Indeed, his combined 89 goal involvements is in the best in the league during this time, seven more than Berghuis, while Bryan Linssen (who has the most goals with 52) is way behind with 66.

To really emphasise Ziyech's attacking brilliance, his 421 chances created since September 2016 is a whopping 134 more than second-place Berghuis.


MIXING IT WITH MESSI AND MBAPPE IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

Ajax were the great entertainers of the of the 2018-19 Champions League and only a last-gasp goal from Tottenham's Lucas Moura denied Erik ten Hag's men a place in the final.

Ziyech was typically influential in that run to the last four and since August 2018 he has provided seven assists in Europe's premier competition.

That is as many as team-mate Dusan Tadic and just one fewer than the best of eight achieved by Kylian Mbappe and Riyad Mahrez - and one more than Barcelona great Lionel Messi.

His five goals are 13 fewer than the sensational 18 scored by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski in the same time, with Messi registering 14.

Messi tops the list of goal involvements at 20, with Lewandowski (18), Mbappe (17), Raheem Sterling (14), Tadic and Mohamed Salah (both 13) above Ziyech's combined goals and assists tally of 12.

In terms of chances created, Ziyech scores highly as well. His 39 is the same as Christian Eriksen and beaten only by Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos (51), Tadic (47) and Messi (41).


THE STATS

- Since the 2012-13 season, Ziyech has made 217 Eredivisie appearances, scored 79 goals and contributed 87 assists.

- Ziyech has at least 10 assists in each of his previous six Eredivisie seasons, no player has managed to do so in more than two campaigns in the same period.

- No players has more assists (51), shots (528), created chances (421), completed dribbles (288) or recoveries (752) than Ziyech in the Eredivisie since he joined Ajax.

- Over the past two seasons, only Mohamed Salah (79) and Messi (77) have taken more Champions League shots than Ziyech (75 same as Cristiano Ronaldo). 

Paul Pogba has said he "can't wait" to return to action for Manchester United as the World Cup winner steps up his ankle rehabilitation.

After starting just five Premier League games so far this season, Pogba appears close to giving manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a much-missed midfield option.

Pogba released video footage of his gym work on Wednesday, with his movement boding well for a comeback after recently having a cast removed.

"Four weeks after surgery, I'm feeling good," he said on the Instagram video.

A further series of images came with captions, with Pogba writing on one: "Can't wait to be back on the pitch."

On another, United's £89.3million record signing wrote of "stretching beyond your limits".

Solskjaer has been cautious around putting a timescale on Pogba's return to action, and the French playmaker was assigned to continue his recovery when team-mates headed to Spain for their ongoing warm-weather camp.

However, the day Pogba pulls on the United shirt again appears to be coming closer.

The former Juventus star has an added incentive to return: United's signing of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP means Pogba will have a new midfield ally.

Anthony Martial recounted how he was determined to prove Jose Mourinho wrong after falling out of favour during the Portuguese coach's second season at Manchester United.

Martial's United career has been plagued by inconsistency, particularly while Mourinho was in charge.

After a promising debut season at the club, Martial seemed to take a step back during the 2016-17 campaign, starting 18 Premier League matches compared to 29 the previous year and his goals haul also dropped significantly from 11 to four.

Transfer speculation surrounding Martial was rife before the 2017-18 season and he made only three Premier League starts prior to November, but he got himself back into more regular contention, scoring nine times and setting up another five goals.

Mourinho's motivational methods are well-known, as he has never been afraid to criticise his players publicly to get a reaction, and while it seemed to work with Martial, he says he would have preferred alternative treatment.

"It is true that I prefer to be told to my face," Martial told RMC Sport as part of a documentary about Mourinho.

"There is no need for it to be said in front of everybody. Certainly, after that, you want to prove him wrong.

"He did not play me during the first matches of the season. Each time I came on, I scored, and he eventually said to me, 'you see, now you understand what I am after.'

"It can sting, but you just want to show him that you should be on the pitch."

Martial started the 2019-20 season well under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but he has struggled to find form of late after being moved into a central role due to the absence of Marcus Rashford.

Mohamed Salah's agent has reiterated no decision has been taken on whether the Liverpool star will represent Egypt at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Egypt Under-23 boss Shawky Gharib confirmed his intention to select Salah as one of three overage players for the football tournament at the Games, though he did concede he has not yet held talks with the player himself.

Speaking last month, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp said "it would not be too cool" if Salah were travel to Japan and that the call had yet to be made.

That was a message emphasised again by Salah's agent Ramy Abbas Issa on social media, who quote tweeted a report saying the 27-year-old would be selected with the message: "No decision has been made yet."

If Salah were to represent Egypt it would leave Liverpool without their key forward for pre-season and perhaps some of the beginning of the Premier League campaign.

The gold medal match is scheduled to take place on August 8, the same day as the start of the top-flight season in England.

Dani Ceballos believes he would have risked becoming an Anfield misfit if he had chosen to join Liverpool rather than Arsenal.

The Spain midfielder swapped Real Madrid for the Gunners in a season-long loan deal last July, but only after weighing up the idea of playing for Jurgen Klopp's Champions League winners.

Ceballos reached the conclusion that his style of play would not have been the ideal fit at Liverpool, accepting Unai Emery's invitation to head to London instead.

"I was proud to have a club like Liverpool after me, but I chose Arsenal because of Unai Emery and how he was with me," Ceballos told Marca.

"Klopp is a great coach but you have to look at the playing philosophy of each team. Right now players of my philosophy of play would not fit in the best possible way in a team like Liverpool."

Liverpool's hard-grafting midfielders have helped the Reds pull 22 points clear at the top of the Premier League, and 42 points ahead of Arsenal, who are toiling in 10th place.

Ceballos endured a long spell out of the Arsenal team because of a hamstring injury and the attack-minded 23-year-old admitted he may have played too often in his early months at the club.

He thinks he suffered the blow "because of an excess of matches", explaining: "I'd played 17 games in two months; I was the only player that had played all these games."

Ceballos had told Emery he wanted to be involved in every fixture, but he looks back now and says: "Sometimes you have to learn from mistakes. I struggled with the injury, but you learn from everything."

He was powerless to prevent Emery losing his job in November, but says successor Mikel Arteta "is going to be a great coach" and possesses the qualities that "Arsenal need right now".

Asked about the change of coach, Ceballos looked back on the turbulent period at Arsenal and said: "I'm f***** on my part because I'd never been injured and annoyingly, I got injured at a time when the team started to unravel a bit.

"I was watching the Arsenal games and I saw that we were struggling, that we weren't winning and that we'd entered a dynamic where we were finding it tough to get points.

"I'm powerless and angry that I wasn't able to have helped the boss [Emery] and repaid everything he'd done for me."

Sadio Mane has revealed the driving force behind his rise to the top after cementing himself as an integral part of an increasingly dominant Liverpool side.

The Senegalese forward won the 2019 CAF African Player of the Year award last month, having helped the Reds to Champions League success in June.

In 36 Premier League outings last year, Mane scored 24 goals and provided six assists, with Jurgen Klopp's side now 22 points clear at the summit after finishing runners-up in the 2018-19 campaign.

Mane, who moved to Anfield from Southampton in 2016, cited the support of his friends and family back home in the village of Bambali as key to his sparkling form.

"I can't describe how they are and how motivated they are especially. They always push me," Mane, who started his career in France with Metz, told Liverpool's official website.

"If you see those people, you push hard and harder to make them proud because it's the only satisfaction they have on it. I have to give back what they have done for me.

"I think it was something special for the village because in the village we had some great players but they were never successful.

"When I came to France and that time I was playing second league, the village never had the channel to watch the second league, so everybody was so excited to see me on TV first of all!

"They were praying for me every day to see me at this level because they will be just proud. How things are going and as I get more motivated and [they get] more excited to see me higher and higher, I think I have to sacrifice myself to make them proud."

Mane has not featured since suffering a hamstring problem in the first half of Liverpool's 2-1 win over Wolves on January 23 but has been back in training this week.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

Mauricio Pochettino said he would "love" to work in the Premier League again as the former Tottenham manager continues to be linked with Manchester United.

Pochettino led Tottenham to the Champions League final last season but was sacked in November and replaced by Jose Mourinho.

Barcelona emerged as a possible destination for Pochettino until the LaLiga champions turned to Quique Setien, however, links to United refuse to subside.

Pochettino is reportedly keen on the United job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles at Old Trafford, where the Red Devils are eighth and six points adrift of the top four.

"To be honest, I would love to work in the Premier League," Pochettino said on 'In The Pink' podcast.

"It's going to be difficult, I know, and for now it's a moment to wait and we'll see what happens.

"It's a moment of recovery, to think about yourself a little bit, and to be ready because in football always something can happen and you need to be ready.

"I'm ready and waiting for a new challenge. I have the belief and confidence that the next challenge will be fantastic."

Pochettino added: "I was in Argentina, I was in Qatar, I was in Spain and I have Jesus [Perez, assistant manager to Pochettino at Spurs] who follows the news a little bit but I notice the rumours.

"All of the coaching staff accept that there are rumours. We deal with rumours naturally.

"The people need natural people, normal people and we don't say that we are unique with that but we are not actors and we don't do anything that we don't believe."

If a Premier League job does not arise, Pochettino will pursue an opportunity outside of England.

"If we move to Europe," the 47-year-old Argentinian said. "We are going to miss England."

Philippe Coutinho is not surprised to see former club Liverpool dominate the Premier League but insists he does not "look back" despite enduring a difficult time since leaving Anfield.

Coutinho left Liverpool for Barcelona in January 2018 in a move potentially worth €160million (£142m), but, after initially impressing at Camp Nou, he failed to convince in his first full LaLiga season and was allowed to leave on loan for Bayern Munich, who also have a purchase option.

He has been similarly underwhelming in the Bundesliga, however, making just 12 league starts out of a possible 21.

Bayern have supposedly already decided they will not trigger their buy option, which is reportedly set at €120m.

While Coutinho has struggled after leaving Liverpool, the Reds have gone from strength to strength and look destined to add Premier League success to last season's Champions League crown – but the Brazilian insists he has only happy thoughts for his former club.

"Liverpool is flying, and it doesn't surprise me," Coutinho told Sports Illustrated. "We've seen it already last year when they won the Champions League, but I'm also not surprised because of their fantastic squad and manager.

"I am so happy for them, because I have so many friends there, former team-mates, so I'm just so happy for them. But that's it. I don't look back.

"I took another path, and now I am on another journey, much like everyone else. I'm focused entirely – just like them – on reaching my dreams.

"I'm happy with what I did in the past, and now I can only look forward."

Despite Coutinho's occasional issues at Bayern, Hansi Flick – who is in charge at least until the end of the season – recently offered words of encouragement for him, and the Brazil international has been impressed by the former assistant of Niko Kovac.

"He [Flick] is working so hard, and thanks to him the team is playing well and that's what's most important," he added.

"It can't be easy to manage a team like Bayern Munich, and I think he came in and has been doing a great job."

Following Sunday's 0-0 draw at home to RB Leipzig, Bayern remain one point clear of Julian Nagelsmann's side at the Bundesliga summit.

Dejan Lovren wants Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool to be held in similar regard to Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, convinced they can leave a legacy that marks them out as an all-time great team.

After narrowly missing out on the Premier League title last season, despite a remarkable haul of 97 points, Liverpool look destined to end their 30-year wait for the title this term.

The Reds are incredibly 22 points clear of defending champions Manchester City after 25 matches, with Klopp's side only failing to win once so far in the league.

Not only are they on course to be crowned champions, they are still in the hunt for the FA Cup and also the Champions League, a trophy they lifted in 2019.

Should they close out the season as emphatically as they have performed so far then records will tumble, but Lovren has warned their rivals that Liverpool will still be "greedy" for more in the future.

"I've been there from the beginning with Jurgen and it took quite a while, two or three years to build everything up," Lovren told Sky Sports.

"Let's say, we clicked this year - maybe even last year - but we missed out by one point.

"Now we understand each other, what we need, what we want. And I especially want that we are remembered maybe like the Barcelona team that won in four years [about] 20 trophies.

"Why should we not do that? I think we can do it and I want that we are remembered as one of the best teams that have played - not only for this year, but for many, many years.

"We are still hungry, still greedy and this is what makes us special to be honest.

"I think many other teams would go easy now with a 22-point lead, but we don't look at these 22 points. We are just focused game by game and this I think is the simplest way to be the best.

"It is a good experience also for the younger ones, to understand that even if you are on top you still need to work as hard as if you were in the middle of the table or in last position."

Liverpool return to Premier League action on Saturday when they travel to rock-bottom Norwich City.

Emmanuel Adebayor has reunited with former Manchester City team-mate Roque Santa Cruz at OIlimpia, and Yaya Toure is also being linked with a switch to South America.

The ex-Real Madrid, Arsenal and Tottenham attacker, 35, has joined the reigning Primera Division champions for the 2020 campaign, having played alongside Santa Cruz at the Etihad Stadium between 2009 and 2010.

Olimpia president Marco Trovato last Friday said he wanted 20,000 new members to sign up in order to announce the arrival of Adebayor on Monday, though the deadline was extended by 24 hours.

Shortly after revealing that 14,922 people had signed up with the club, Olimpia made the former Togo international's arrival official.

Toure could be the next big-name veteran to arrive in South America, with Rodrigo Codas, an agent who played a role in Adebayor's move to Olimpia, claiming the Ivorian's representative has asked him to help evaluate the market.

Toure, who arrived at City from Barcelona in 2010 and won three Premier League titles, spent 2019 playing in China's second tier with Qingdao Huanghai and is reportedly a target for Olimpia's rivals Libertad, though a switch to Brazil appears more likely.

"I want to be cautious about Yaya," Codas told Fox Sports Argentina. "He is a player that is willing to come to South America.

"He is very friendly with Adebayor, the same with Roque or Carlos Tevez in South America.

"I think that Yaya would be going, if all goes well, to Brazil. Because of the country and the finances, and because of the power of Brazilian football.

"The coronavirus scares many players who are in China and want to leave."

Chelsea have promoted highly rated midfielder Billy Gilmour to their first-team squad on a permanent basis.

Gilmour, 18, has made five appearances for Chelsea's senior side this term but been predominately used in the club's Under-23s.

However, the Scotland youth international has demonstrated such great promise to the coaching staff that they have decided his talents will be better served solely in the first-team squad.

Frank Lampard has been praised for his use of young players this term and Gilmour is regarded as one of Chelsea's brightest prospects.

Lampard made Gilmour aware of his decision during Chelsea's trip to Leicester City at the start of February.

"It's a massive moment for me and I'm really happy," Gilmour told Chelsea's official website.

"I went with the squad to Leicester and, even though I wasn't involved, the gaffer [Lampard] pulled me afterwards to tell me that after the winter break I'd be with the first-team permanently.

"It's a dream come true for me. It's the first big step I think, moving into the first-team dressing room at a club like Chelsea. It's massive for me.

"Knowing that the manager has such faith in you is massive, it gives me so much confidence when I step onto the field. It's really good knowing that he trusts in you and likes the way you play, and I think that's the same for everyone here.

"Age isn't really an issue here. The gaffer has shown that if you work hard and perform well, then you will get opportunities. Hopefully I can keep pushing on and work hard every day in training."

Chelsea are next in action at home to Manchester United on Monday.

Manchester City's Premier League clash with West Ham, which was postponed on Sunday, will now take place on February 19.

Safety fears amid the threat of Storm Ciara forced the game to be called off at the weekend around five hours prior to kick-off time at the Etihad Stadium.

Now the teams will try again next Wednesday, with the fixture to get underway at 19:30 GMT.

Both Manchester City and West Ham are enjoying a mid-season break, though the rearranged fixture will see them return to action earlier than initially planned.

After hosting the Hammers, City travel to Leicester City in league action on February 22, four days before the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie with Real Madrid.

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