Rumour Has It: Haaland wanted at Barcelona, Madrid captain Ramos to Man Utd?

By Sports Desk January 14, 2021

Erling Haaland is one of the sought-after players in world football.

The Borussia Dortmund forward can reportedly take his pick from Europe's elite.

But if his agent Mino Raiola has his way, Camp Nou could be Haaland's next destination.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND COULD LEAVE BVB AT SEASON'S END

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could leave the Bundesliga club for Barcelona at the end of the season, according to TV3 program Onze.

Haaland has been linked with the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus following his exploits for Dortmund.

The Norway international forward reportedly has a €75million (£66.8m) release clause at the end of his second season in Dortmund, though he could depart sooner rather than later.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says United are not working on a deal to sign Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. The Spanish superstar is out of contract at the end of the season, and he has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Juve, City, Chelsea and Liverpool. A move to Liverpool is reportedly not on the horizon due to his role in the injury to Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final.

City have joined Serie A champions Juve in the race to sign Sassuolo star Manuel Locatelli, reports the Daily Mail.

- According to Sky Sport Italia, Sportitalia and Tuttomercatoweb, Milan are set to meet with free agent Mario Mandzukic over the next 24 hours to discuss a short-term deal. Staying at San Siro and Sky Sport Italia says the Rossoneri are close to signing Torino midfielder Soualiho Meite on loan with the option to buy.

Arsenal are interested in Barca goalkeeper Neto, claims Sky Sports. With backup Runar Alex Runarsson struggling in London, the Gunners are hoping to bring in Neto on loan.

- Marca reports Barca are targeting Valencia star Jose Gaya to bolster their left-back position, while Villarreal's Alfonso Pedraza is another option.

Juventus are set to complete the signing of American defender Bryan Reynolds from MLS club Dallas, says Romano. The 19-year-old will join Benevento until June, before linking up with Juve.

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  • Maguire tells Man Utd to 'stand up and be counted' after shock loss Maguire tells Man Utd to 'stand up and be counted' after shock loss

    Harry Maguire believes it is time for Manchester United to "stand up and be counted" after the team were left "devastated" by Wednesday's 2-1 defeat to rock-bottom Sheffield United. 

    The Red Devils were aiming to go back top of the Premier League table but succumbed to a shock loss at Old Trafford, Oli Burke's fortuitous winner sealing the points after Maguire's goal against his former club had initially cancelled out Kean Bryan's first-half opener. 

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men had gone unbeaten in their previous 13 matches but were well off the pace against the Blades. 

    Captain Maguire urged the squad to rebound quickly for Saturday's trip to Arsenal, who coincidentally were the last side before Chris Wilder's team to defeat them in the league. 

    "When you do get a defeat, there's nothing worse than waiting to get back out on the pitch to play and put things right," Maguire told United's club media. 

    "The boys are devastated, if I'm honest. It's a really quiet dressing room. The boys are so disappointed; we didn't expect it, we came into the game confident. 

    "We've got to pick ourselves up. We are disappointed and it hurts, but Saturday is a big game and we've got to bounce back. 

    "It's all good and easy when you're winning football matches and you're playing well, but now it's time to stand up and be counted. 

    "When you get kicked down it's how quickly you bounce back and Saturday's a big one and we've got to get three points."

    Maguire rued the defensive lapses that he felt proved so costly. 

    "Not good enough," he added. "We didn't perform to a level we've been playing at. We didn't play at an intensity that we've played at. We haven't created enough to win the game. 

    "We didn't see it coming; we prepared well and were fully confident. We fell behind to a soft goal, but we felt that we could come back, like we've done numerous times this year, and come back and win the game. 

    "We got ourselves back into the game and we felt like the next goal would be crucial, and we managed to get that, and we just didn't kick on; we didn't find that spark. Then from that position, we can't lose the game. You've thrown away a point. 

    "It's probably the first time they've been in our box in the second half and they managed to score, so we've got to look at it and got to improve. For sure, he [Burke] can't be taking a touch and controlling it and having a shot in our box with no-one around him. It's not good enough." 

    There was contention in the first half, with United claiming Billy Sharp had fouled David De Gea in the process of the Blades taking the lead, while referee Peter Bankes ruled out a goal for the home team with Maguire judged to have impeded visiting keeper Aaron Ramsdale when Anthony Martial swept home. 

    "It's incredible. There's no doubt that Billy Sharp's is more of a foul than what I did at the other end," Maguire said of the two incidents. 

    "Maybe people will say both aren't fouls, but definitely not David's is and that one isn't. I jumped for the ball. I don't think I actually touched the keeper.  

    "I think he just touches me in the back; my arms are nowhere near him. I think the referee will look back and know he's made a mistake."

  • Rumour Has It: Real Madrid wait for Mbappe signal as PSG star asks for time to decide future Rumour Has It: Real Madrid wait for Mbappe signal as PSG star asks for time to decide future

    Kylian Mbappe wants time to make a decision on his future as Real Madrid await a signal from the Paris Saint-Germain star.

    Mbappe, 22, has been linked with a move to Madrid and his contract at PSG ends in 2022.

    But will the forward end up at the Santiago Bernabeu?

     

    TOP STORY – REAL MADRID WAIT FOR MBAPPE

    Real Madrid are waiting for a signal from Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to Marca.

    The report says Mbappe has asked for time to decide his future.

    While Madrid have been most strongly linked with a move for Mbappe, Liverpool are also reportedly interested.

    ROUND-UP

    - Staying at Madrid and Fabrizio Romano says a new contract for midfielder Luka Modric is imminent. The Croatian midfielder's current deal expires at the end of the season.

    - Dele Alli's future is set to be a constant talking point until at least the end of this transfer window. ESPN claims Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy is reluctant to let the midfielder leave for PSG. Romano reports Spurs are still looking for a replacement and were working on re-signing Christian Eriksen, but Inter wanted a loan fee and the midfielder's salary paid in full.

    - Lyon star Houssem Aouar was linked to Arsenal last close season, but the midfielder could head elsewhere. Gianluca Di Marzio reports Juventus are looking at the 22-year-old as an option ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

    - Lucas Torreira seems set to move on from Atletico Madrid. Diario AS says Monaco are favourites to sign the midfielder, who is on loan at Atletico from Arsenal.

    - Said Benrahma has made an impression at West Ham. Sky Sports reports West Ham have converted their loan for Benrahma from Brentford into a permanent move, paying £20million plus add-ons. The report says West Ham are also in talks to sign RB Leipzig forward Hwang Hee-chan.

  • Bayer Leverkusen: Wirtz and the exciting post-Havertz era, transfer strategy using data and AI Bayer Leverkusen: Wirtz and the exciting post-Havertz era, transfer strategy using data and AI

    "There is a spirit in the team but also the club – a dynamic in the last months and last years. That should lead us one day to a title, that's our big goal."

    Bayer Leverkusen are one of Germany's biggest clubs, but not since the 1993 DFB-Pokal have they celebrated silverware.

    Leverkusen have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1997, 1999, 2000, 20002 and 2011, while they also reached the 2002 Champions League final, succumbing to Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow.

    There were also runners-up appearances in the DFB-Pokal – 20002, 2009 and 2020. But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Kai Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern Munich's domestic and European dominance.

    Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform News: "It's not easy if you're playing with the best team in the world – Bayern – but we have made a step forward and quite close to the top. We want to go forward. If it happens this year, fantastic. But we want to proceed and develop the squad, and mentality."

    When star Havertz left for Chelsea at the start of the season in a transfer that could rise to €100million, and Kevin Volland joined Monaco, it left a noticeable hole at BayArena, where the pair scored 30 goals across all competitions in 2019-20.

    But led by prodigy Florian Wirtz and a thrilling core of players, including Moussa Diaby, Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri, Leverkusen are continuing to challenge this term.

    Leverkusen are third in the Bundesliga – three points behind RB Leipzig and 10 adrift of reigning champions Bayern – while Peter Bosz's side are preparing to face Young Boys in the Europa League last 32 and Rot-Weiss Essen in the DFB-Pokal round of 16.

    With Havertz having departed, Leverkusen have a better goals/game ratio (2.5) through 26 games across all competitions this season, compared to 1.8 in 2019-20. The club have also improved defensively – goals conceded/game (1.0) and expected goals against (1.0) are better than last term (1.3) and (1.4) respectively.

    Collecting 32 points, Leverkusen have played the best first half of a Bundesliga season for seven years – they collected 37 points at this stage in 2013-14.

    Leverkusen have also exceeded their xG value of 23.1 to almost nine goals (8.9) – only Bayern have a greater margin between goals and xG (13.9). 

    "In general yes because it's a chance for other players to develop and take more responsibility in the team and on the pitch," Rolfes, who was appointed in 2018, said when asked if he was always confident following the exits of Havertz and Volland. "We had the view that there could be other players who could take a step forward. The only thing for sure is Havertz is a world-class player, a fantastic guy and player. It's very difficult to replace him, so we said, it's not our direction to find a replacement for Kai because you will never find that replacement.

    "We said okay, we will give our own players the chance to grow, this strategy works out very fast. It's always a risk for sure, but we have the confidence in those players to make a step forward, and also the team. If your superstar is gone, everyone knows we have to give more.

    "We try to build-up, play offensive with ball possession, straightforward – the kind of style we showed against Borussia Dortmund [2-1 on January 19] is what we want. We want to have the ball, a lot of clubs and trainers are speaking to play without the ball, in Germany it's very popular, but we want to have the ball and want players who want the ball."

    The emergence of teenage sensation Wirtz, and development of Diaby, Bailey, Edmond Tapsoba and Amiri, has further highlighted Leverkusen's successful recruitment and philosophy, which has become synonymous with German clubs.

    "You have to have a clear strategy," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "A clear strategy of recruitment but also your playing style. That's really important for players but also the success of a club – both are strongly connected. For your playing style, you have to sign the right players. Then you have the chance that the players adapt quicker and develop better in your system because they feel comfortable in the way of playing. That's crucial.

    "We know the Bundesliga, financially solid, but we are not at the top that we can sign every player, we have to develop players. The strategy is to recruit good players for our style and develop them to the top. Some clubs in Germany are quite successful with this."

    "We are focusing on that talent and try to find them," he said. "We analyse millions of data with artificial intelligence, to pre-select and be early. It's not because we know players other clubs do not know, maybe 20 years ago, but everything is transparent. But you have to find them a bit quicker, but also clear in your playing style and what can they develop with your training work, in which areas they can develop in weak points. Because we are not signing players where everything is 100 per cent, we know they have weak points, but we know we have to work with them on that."

    Data and AI continue to play a huge role in football, with Rolfes adding: "It's very important and because the data will be better and better, it will become much more important in the future because you will get better results. We are working with our own team on scouting, preparing for next matches – just in our daily work."

    The likes of Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos, Bernd Leno and Havertz have all made names for themselves at Leverkusen, and Rolfes continued: "We count on the young players [at Leverkusen]. We give them trust and the opportunity to play. For example, Wirtz, we give him the chance to replace Havertz and not sign another star to put in front of him. That is one thing.

    "We have a very professional environment, we really take care of the guys – try to develop them, work on the pitch and prepare them for top football. We have an advantage that the media surrounding is not so big here. That's good for young players to have a familiar environment where they feel very comfortable and less stressful, then try to reach the best level on the pitch."

    Wirtz is the heir apparent to Havertz, having made an immediate impact after the 17-year-old swapped Cologne for Leverkusen in 2020.

    Having made his debut in May 2020, Wirtz became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern after coming on as a substitute. Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record.

    Among all players with at least 50 dribbles in this season's Bundesliga, only Augsburg's Daniel Caligiuri has a better dribbles success rate (70 per cent) than Wirtz (65 per cent). 

    Wirtz is one of 50 players born in 2003 or earlier to appear in Europe's top five leagues this season. Those 50 players have collected a total of 14 goal involvements – with seven of them coming from Wirtz. 

    Among all players in Europe's top five leagues born in 2003 or earlier, Wirtz played the most minutes in all competitions this season (1,579) and had the most goal involvements in all comps (11 – six goals and five assists). 

    "I saw him for the first time at 13. Now I have to say, he is playing Bundesliga the same way he was playing at 13, 14, 15, 16 – I followed him all the years. I always said okay, that's the player for us, the player for Leverkusen. That was not a surprise for me when he came to us and adapted very quick to our style," former Germany international Rolfes said.

    "It was also one argument I said to him during the transfer. I said, 'you are a player for us, you will develop your skills and strengths much better because that's what we need in our style'. His development is fantastic."

    Like Havertz, Bailey could be the next Leverkusen star to leave amid constant speculation over his future.

    The 23-year-old winger, who has scored four goals and supplied five assists in the 2020-21 Bundesliga so far, has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City and Rolfes is unwilling to sell the Jamaican to just any club.

    "He's played a fantastic season," Rolfes said. "He struggled a bit last season, but he is performing at a very high level. A good guy in the squad. He has a chance to score goals for sure. A fantastic technique. That's part of lives also, to sell players but we want to sell to the top eight clubs in the world, but not to other clubs. Sometimes a player will leave us. We have a contract with Bailey but we are quite relaxed."

    Diaby is another prime example for Leverkusen, where the accelerating Frenchman has 561 sprints in the league this season, more than any other player. 

    The former Paris Saint-Germain speedster has been involved in 15 goals in all competitions in this season (in 26 games) – with his next goal involvement the 21-year-old would already reach his value from his first season in Leverkusen (16 in 39 games). 

    "When we extended the contract until 2025, that was a really nice Christmas present to extend the contracts of Diaby, Tapsoba and Wirtz," Rolfes said. "[Diaby] is a key player of our squad. His acceleration and speed is outstanding. He has developed on scoring and assisting. To use his acceleration on a top, top level. He has potential to develop further. I'm very, very happy he is part of our squad."

    Meanwhile, Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be the latest success story for Leverkusen, who also completed the signing of Netherlands Under-20 international Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic on Wednesday.

    After joining Manchester United's academy in 2014, the 23-year-old called time on his Old Trafford stay in January, and Rolfes said: "He is not so young but the last two years, you had the feeling there was more in the box than there was in the last two years. That's interesting for us, to sign that kind of player where you have the feeling they can reach more. We want to help him.

    "Timothy is a really good guy, ambitious guy. I like this. He has the ability, the physicality, very fast, a good technique. A lot of fundamental things that are important for our playing style. Then if the mentality and ambition isn't right, then let's work on that to develop you. I'm convinced Timothy can be the next example for our club."

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