Manchester United are reportedly willing to meet Salzburg's £41.8million asking price for 19-year-old Slovenian striker Benjamin Sesko.

Sesko, who does not turn 20 until next May and measures in at 195cm tall, scored 11 goals in 37 games last season, and he opened the new Bundesliga campaign with a goal and an assist in a 3-0 win over Austria Vienna.

According to The Athletic, United decided against signing Sesko for £2.5m as a 16-year-old, and they will now have to pay up to secure the services of the in-demand forward.


TOP STORY – UNITED PLAN BIG MOVE FOR TOWERING SLOVENIAN STRIKER

The report from Express calls Sesko "a priority target" for new boss Erik ten Hag, but also mentions that the Austrian club is extremely high on him as a prospect – going as far as comparing his future to that of former Salzburg man Erling Haaland.

Meanwhile, Sport Klub claims Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are also monitoring the situation, and that Sesko and Salzburg will be meeting in the next week to make a firm decision on his future.

Sesko is also Slovenia's youngest-ever international debutant, having debuted one day after his 18th birthday, and became their youngest international goalscorer a few months later.


ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato claims Tottenham are set to sign 19-year-old defender and Manchester City target Destiny Udogie from Udinese for a deal in the range of £25m.

– The Mirror is reporting that Everton have swooped in to land West Ham target Amadou Onana from Lille with a fee of £33.7m.

Leeds United are making a £22m bid for Paris Saint-Germain forward Arnaud Kalimuendo, according to the Sun.

– A Sky Sports report states Crystal Palace are interested in bringing back defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka from United.

– Liverpool are exploring a potential £50m move to bring in Leroy Sane from Bayern Munich, according to 90min.

Sadio Mane scored his first Bundesliga goal as Bayern Munich opened the new campaign with a stunning 6-1 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt.

Europa League winners Frankfurt seemed a tricky first opponent for the champions, but Julian Nagelsmann's side swept them aside in sensational style.

Having defeated RB Leipzig 5-3 in the DFL-Supercup in their first competitive match after Robert Lewandowski's departure last week, Bayern were five up by half-time on Friday – Joshua Kimmich, Benjamin Pavard, Jamal Musiala and Serge Gnabry joining Mane on the scoresheet.

Manuel Neuer's sloppiness gifted Randal Kolo Muani a consolation, yet it was a minor blip in a supreme Bayern display, and Musiala capped things off with his second late on.

Bayern had full control by the 10th minute. Kimmich fooled Kevin Trapp with a long-range free-kick that clipped in off the right-hand upright, before Pavard lashed in his second goal in as many games.

Juventus-linked Filip Kostic teed up a golden chance for Frankfurt to drag themselves back into contention, only for Tuta to head against the woodwork, which then denied Bayern a third after Gnabry's poor pass sold Thomas Muller short in front of goal.

Another glorious Eintracht chance went begging due to Jesper Lindstrom's profligacy, but Bayern had their third after Trapp had parried Musiala's effort onto the crossbar – Mane stooping low to head in Gnabry's cross.

Mane turned architect for Bayern's fourth six minutes later, drawing out the Frankfurt defence and finding Muller, who squared for Musiala, and it was five before half-time when Gnabry squeezed home.

Kristijan Jakic, one of three half-time Frankfurt substitutes, thought he had pulled a goal back in the 56th minute, yet it was disallowed for offside.

Neuer hardly covered himself in glory in that incident, and Bayern's captain was entirely at fault eight minutes later when he was bundled off the ball by Kolo Muani.

Musiala had the final say, though, tucking in after Leroy Sane's exquisite pass to add further gloss to a statement win.

What does it mean? No Lewy, no problem

Bayern have now gone unbeaten in their opening league fixture for 11 straight seasons – they went on to win the title in each of the previous 10.

Although Bayern have lost more times away to Frankfurt than they have any other team (23), they were in top gear from the off, and there was never any danger of another defeat.

Lewandowski may have gone, but Bayern's attack – spearheaded by Mane and the evergreen Muller, who matched Hans Georg Schwarzenbeck's 416 Bundesliga outings for Bayern (the second-most among outfield players) and finished with two assists – looks scintillating. 

Magical Mane off to a flyer

In five of his six Premier League campaigns for Liverpool, Mane scored in his first away game of the season, including on his Reds debut in a 4-3 win at Arsenal in August 2016.

The Senegal forward always seemed likely to start fast in Germany, and he has done just that. He is the first player to score in his maiden Bundesliga away game for Bayern since Joshua Zirkzee did so against Freiburg in December 2019, while Mario Mandzukic, in 2012, was the last Bayern player to score in his first two appearances for the club in all competitions.

Few home comforts for Frankfurt

Friday's game was the ninth example of an away team scoring five before half-time in Bundesliga history, and Bayern are responsible for four of those occasions.

But in truth, they were helped by a woeful defensive display from their hosts. Frankfurt picked up just 19 points at home (W4 D7 L6) last season, bettering only the two relegated sides in Arminia Bielefeld and Greuther Furth, and Oliver Glasner must strike a better balance.

What's next?

Bayern host Wolfsburg in their second Bundesliga game of the season, while Frankfurt travel to Helsinki for the small matter of facing Champions League winners Real Madrid in the Super Cup.

Chelsea's ongoing negotiations with Barcelona could produce more than just midfielder Frenkie de Jong, with new reports that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also on the table for a transfer.

The two powerhouse clubs have been in seemingly constant discussion over the past month, with Barcelona openly looking to add Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta after swooping in to claim Blues target Jules Kounde.

Chelsea recently took Azpilicueta out of the equation by signing him to a two-year extension, but the two clubs re-opened their negotiations when the Stamford Bridge outfit decided to put in a bid for De Jong, and in the process they may have found the answer to their striker situation.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA WILLING TO INCLUDE AUBAMEYANG IN CHELSEA TRANSFER DISCUSSIONS

After expensive moves for Leeds United winger Raphinha, Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Sevilla centre-back Kounde, the Mirror is reporting Barcelona are "desperate to balance their books" and 33-year-old Aubameyang appears to be the most likely option to be moved on.

The report mentions both De Jong and Aubameyang are seen as surplus to requirements, and with Chelsea yet to bring in a replacement for Romelu Lukaku after he was loaned out to Inter, it could be a perfect match.

No potential asking price is mentioned for the striker who collected 20 goals in 38 club appearances this past season, including 11 goals in 17 LaLiga fixtures.

Meanwhile, ESPN adds that Chelsea were monitoring the Gabon frontman back in 2020 before he signed a contract extension with Arsenal, and that they are still interested.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Times is reporting Chelsea are expected to make a £70million bid for 21-year-old Leicester City centre-back Wesley Fofana after having a £60m offer turned down.

– According to Foot Mercato, Nottingham Forest and Leicester are competing for the signing of 24-year-old Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, who is valued at €15m.

– The Guardian is reporting 25-year-old Ivory Coast winger Maxwel Cornet only needs to pass a physical to confirm a move from Burnley to West Ham after the Hammers met his £17.5m release clause.

– Radioestadio Noche claims Real Madrid have identified 19-year-old RB Salzburg striker Benjamin Sesko or 22-year-old Nice forward Amine Gouiri as potential long-term successors to Karim Benzema.

Crystal Palace are exploring a move for 19-year-old RB Leipzig midfielder Ilaix Moriba – who is a product of Barcelona's youth academy – according to Foot Mercato.

Borussia Dortmund coach Edin Terzic is "fully convinced" of the quality in his squad, despite a lack of firepower up front.

Dortmund sold Erling Haaland to Manchester City, with the Norway forward moving on after two-and-a-half years in the Bundesliga.

Haaland scored 86 goals in 89 appearances across all competitions for Dortmund, who brought in Sebastien Haller as the 22-year-old's replacement.

However, the former Ajax and West Ham striker was last month found to have a malignant testicular tumour, with Dortmund confirming the 28-year-old will now undergo chemotherapy.

That has left Terzic, who has replaced Marco Rose as coach, with Donyell Malen – who managed only five league goals in his first season at Dortmund – as his likely striker choice for Saturday's Bundesliga opener against Bayer Leverkusen.

 

Terzic has no doubt over the quality at his disposal, though he suggested Dortmund will look to bring in another forward before the end of the transfer window.

"A coach's job is to find the best internal solution with the players available," he said in a news conference. "I am fully convinced and we are fully convinced of our squad, of the qualities in the squad. 

"That we also said before the season that we lost something in the centre of attack with the departure of Erling Haaland, which we then wanted to make up for by signing Sebastien. 

"And when these qualities are not available, then of course you have to think about it. We are doing that now. We are in a very close and trusting exchange. 

"But the job of a coach now is to find the best possible solution with the available players that are there. And with the players available, I'm convinced that we can have a very, very good season."

One player who will not be available for Saturday is Niklas Sule. The centre-back signed from Bayern Munich on a free transfer, but suffered an injury in the DFB-Pokal win over 1860 Munich on July 29.

"Unfortunately, Niklas injured his muscle in the first half of the game," Terzic explained. "On the front [of the] thigh. He wanted to keep playing. To be on the safe side, we substituted him at half-time. 

"Unfortunately, he wasn't able to train with us this week, so he's not yet available for the coming weekend. He's already pain-free, so we're slowly starting to not only treat him with therapy. We just hope it doesn't take too long."

Robert Lewandowski's departure leaves a big void for Bayern Munich to fill, yet Julian Nagelsmann has full confidence his squad is stronger now than it was last season.

Bayern sold star striker Lewandowski, who scored 50 goals across all competitions last season, to Barcelona last month.

Lewandowski had refused to sign a new contract with the Bundesliga champions, who made the reluctant decision to cash in on the 33-year-old.

Sadio Mane had already arrived from Liverpool as Lewandowski's de facto replacement, with Bayern chief executive Oliver Khan having confirmed the club do not plan to sign another senior forward this transfer window.

Bayern have also brought in defender Matthijs de Ligt from Juventus, as well as Noussair Mazraoui and Ryan Gravenberch from Ajax and teenage attacker Mathys Tel from Rennes.

Niklas Sule, Corentin Tolisso, Marc Roca, Omar Richards and Chris Richards are members of the first-team squad to have also left alongside Lewandowski, but Nagelsmann is confident his side have improved overall.

"I'm looking forward to the start with great anticipation I tend to put pressure on myself," Nagelsmann told a news conference ahead of Bayern's Bundesliga opener against Eintracht Frankfurt.

"I read very little. It's normal for Bayern Munich that we always strive for the highest. We lost a striker who scored more than 50 goals, we have to compensate for that.

"I think that's okay, our squad has improved. I know we're going to do well. The lads are very motivated."

 

Asked if more players might yet arrive, Nagelsmann said: "When the season starts, as a coach you focus on the players that are there and on preparing [for] the opponents.

"As a coach you have to do justice to every player in the squad. I don't have any expectations one way or the other.

"I'm very happy with the squad, and I'll see what happens between now and August 31."

As for Bayern's goals this season, Nagelsmann is aiming to improve on their trophy haul. A 10th straight Bundesliga title arrived last term, but they exited the DFB-Pokal early on and lost to Villarreal in the Champions League quarter-finals.

"My first championship was nice. The club is longing for more," Nagelsmann said. "The goal will be to come to Berlin and win the [DFB-Pokal] trophy. We also want to get further in the Champions League.

"It always depends on how lucky we are at the draw and the games. I would also like to take a photo with more titles in it. Maybe we can do that after this season."

Death, taxes and Bayern Munich winning the Bundesliga title.

It is slightly paraphrasing the old idiom to say these are the only three things certain in life.

Such is the optimism of football fandom, though, the question always arises ahead of the new campaign whether this year will be the one where someone steps up and takes Bayern's throne.

The 2021-22 season saw the Bavarian giants claim their 10th Bundesliga title in a row, with Julian Nagelsmann leading Bayern to the championship by eight points in his first season at the Allianz Arena.

Since Jurgen Klopp's exciting Borussia Dortmund side of 2011-12, no team has been able to halt the relentless Bayern dominance of German football.

In fact, in the last decade, only the 2018-19 campaign saw anyone finish closer than the eight points Dortmund were behind last season, when BVB were just two points shy of their Der Klassiker rivals.

How can anyone seriously make the argument that their run will halt any time soon then? Well, let Stats Perform have a go as we take a look at some of the reasons why Bayern might struggle to maintain their stranglehold in 2022-23.

 

Loss of Lewy means new Bayern approach

Bayern's signing of Robert Lewandowski from Dortmund in 2014 was one of the catalysts for their concerted period of dominance.

However, after eight years of service and 238 goals in 253 Bundesliga games for Bayern, the Poland striker wanted to move on and eventually sealed a transfer to Barcelona.

His goals-per-game ratio in the German top flight of 0.94 bested even the great Gerd Muller (0.85), and his loss was certainly not one Bayern had planned for, with the club initially indicating they expected him to honour the final year of his contract, before finally relenting.

Despite being 33 years old, Lewandowski's impact had not waned at all, with him scoring 50 goals in all club competitions last season, making it seven consecutive seasons with at least 40 goals to his name.

Nagelsmann has insisted his team will evolve in Lewandowski's absence, though, and the signing of Sadio Mane appears to suggest that.

After Lewandowski's sale was confirmed, Nagelsmann told BR24: "I'm not worried right now, we are very well-equipped offensively and I'm still spoiled for choice. We have a possibility of building FC Bayern without a striker that can reliably score 40 goals."

With 120 goals in all competitions for Liverpool, Mane averaged a goal every 178.3 minutes for the Reds – a return of one in slightly under two matches. He also assisted 37 goals, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 137 minutes.

In the Premier League, only Harry Kane (134), former team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Leicester City's Jamie Vardy (104) scored more goals than Mane (90) over the course of his Liverpool career.

His scoring rate has never been close to that of Lewandowski, though he has played a significant amount of his career on the left of a front three rather than through the middle, where he ended last season for Liverpool and is expected to mostly play at Bayern.

That means the likes of Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala and Thomas Muller will need to step up and contribute more goals, while it will be interesting to see if 17-year-old striker Mathys Tel will feature much in his first season after signing from Rennes.

The club has also added Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui from Ajax, while former Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt has arrived from Juventus to replace the outgoing Niklas Sule, who chose to swap Munich for Dortmund when his contract expired.

Will Dortmund finally solve flakiness issue?

Marco Rose looked to be a very astute appointment in 2021, but the former Borussia Monchengladbach boss just did not work out at Dortmund.

Rose has been replaced by Edin Terzic, who enjoyed a spell as caretaker boss in the second half of the 2020-21 campaign, winning the DFB-Pokal.

Terzic now has the reins permanently and has two big jobs on his hands.

The first is fixing a leaky defence, which conceded 52 goals in the Bundesliga last season, more than any other team to finish in the top eight, and only one goal fewer than relegated Arminia Bielefeld.

The club may have addressed the issue in the transfer market as they have essentially procured the German national team's central defence by adding Sule from Bayern on a free transfer and the highly rated Nico Schlotterbeck from Freiburg.

Schlotterbeck won 69 per cent of his duels in the Bundesliga last season, the joint-most of all players who contested at least 100 duels, while Sule was third with 68 per cent.

Another issue that needed addressing was similar to Bayern's Lewandowski issue, with Erling Haaland having departed for Manchester City.

The Norwegian scored 86 goals in 89 appearances at Dortmund, including 22 of their 85 league goals last season, though he was only able to feature in 24 games due to injury.

Sebastien Haller was signed to replace Haaland but will unfortunately miss the first few months of the campaign after undergoing surgery for a testicular tumour.

The addition of exciting young talent Karim Adeyemi from Salzburg will give them a dynamic in attack they have missed since selling Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, while in Haller's absence it will be interesting to see if Youssoufa Moukoko, still just 17-years-old, can add to the five Bundesliga goals he already has to his name.

Having also signed defensive midfielder Salih Ozcan from Cologne to provide some steel alongside Jude Bellingham, who it appears they will be keeping hold of for another season at least, the balance of a frequently wobbly side could be there for Terzic to build some momentum.

Best of the rest

Bayer Leverkusen enjoyed a strong campaign last season and have replaced Lucas Alario with promising Czech striker Adam Hlozek.

They also appear to have fought off interest in Moussa Diaby so it would not be a surprise to see them go well again, but with Champions League football to contend with, questions remain whether they have the depth of squad to excel on all fronts.

RB Leipzig will hope to provide a challenge and have also kept hold of their star player in Christopher Nkunku, though losing Tyler Adams and Nordi Mukiele will be a blow, while Eintracht Frankfurt will want to build on last season's Europa League success.

It would be churlish to write Bayern off, of course. They go into the season as heavy favourites and rightly so.

 

Mane might not have the same goalscoring output as Lewandowski, but football has proven time and again that having one player who scores lots of goals is not the only way to be successful.

The African Football Player of the Year has the chance to be the face of the new Bayern, where everyone will be expected to chip in and Nagelsmann can truly cement his ideas on the team.

However, while Bayern have been somewhat forced into a new era, Dortmund appear to have reached theirs more by design and if everything clicks early on for Terzic, an exciting title race could develop.

After all, the only thing that is certain about football is that nothing is certain.

Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong has had a long-running transfer saga this off-season.

The 25-year-old Dutchman has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou amid Barcelona's financial issues, despite their off-season spending landing Robert Lewandowski among others.

The Catalans need to offload players before they can register new signings and De Jong is surplus to requirements.

TOP STORY – CHELSEA TO HIJACK MAN UTD MOVE FOR DE JONG

Chelsea have commenced talks with Barcelona in a bid to hijack Manchester United 's move for Frenkie de Jong, reports The Athletic.

Manchester United have actively pursued the Dutch midfielder this off-season but he has been unwilling to leave the Blaugrana for Old Trafford, creating a stand-off.

De Jong, who is still owed deferred wages by Barcelona, is more open to moving to Chelsea than United, according to the report. 

ROUND-UP

–  Chelsea are also considering a move for Barcelona forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang claims Fabrizio Romano. The Blues have already held talks with former Arsenal man's representatives.

– Sky Sports reports that Manchester United's pursuit of 19-year-old Slovenian forward Benjamin Sesko is heating up, having held initial discussions with his club, Austrian champions Salzburg. Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea have also spoken to Sesko's agent.

Chelsea remain keen on Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana and will offer him £200,000 per week according to the Mail. The Foxes want £85million for the Frenchman.

– The Sun reports that West Ham have agreed to a £35m deal with Lille for Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana. The Hammers still need to thrash out a personal agreement with Onana.

Juventus are interested in signing Udinese left-back Destiny Udogie according to Il Bianconero, while the Daily Mail claims Antonio Conte's Tottenham are also keen on him.

– Diario Sport reports that Rayo Vallecano president Raul Martin Presa has reached a deal with Diego Costa, who wants to return to Spain after time in Brazil.

Borussia Dortmund could be set to spend €30million to sign Almeria forward Umar Sadiq according to Mundo Deportivo. Dortmund are looking for cover as Sebastian Haller is absent due to a testicular tumour.

Sadio Mane has yet to kick a ball in the Bundesliga and already the former Liverpool striker is facing jibes – including a tongue-in-cheek volley from Bayern Munich's opening-day opponents.

Eintracht Frankfurt president Peter Fischer is relishing Friday's tussle between his team, who lifted the Europa League trophy in May, and German champions Bayern.

There is a feelgood factor around Eintracht as the new season arrives, with a UEFA Super Cup clash against Real Madrid coming up next Wednesday.

Confidence is surging, and even the prospect of facing Bayern is not intimidating the team that trailed in 11th in last season's Bundesliga.

Bayern have lost Robert Lewandowski since he hit 50 goals last season, and few would expect new addition Sadio Mane to come close to that tally.

Not many would see it wise to be hurling insults his way, though, however light-hearted the intention.

Fischer, in an interview with broadcasters RTL and n-tv, did just that though, as he said: "Who the f*** is Mane?"

 

Fischer added: "By the way, we always did relatively well with Robert Lewandowski."

That is debatable, given that Lewandowski scored 15 goals in 18 appearances against Eintracht, prior to his close-season switch to Barcelona. They came at a rate of one every 91.53 minutes.

Fischer predicted there would be "an exciting mood in the stadium" as Eintracht host the 10-in-a-row champions.

"And of course we have a chance. If it ends in a draw, I won't start to cry either."

Eintracht head coach Oliver Glasner worked with Mane when the Senegalese forward moved from Metz to Salzburg in 2012, and he has since admired the 30-year-old from afar, particularly during his stellar six-year Liverpool career.

"I am happy that Sadio is in the Bundesliga now," Glasner told a news conference. "It's been 10 years since I got to know him. He was just a young boy that was relegated from the French second to third division. He only spoke French but had enormous talent.

"He was very ambitious and had a clear idea. When we talked about learning German, he said he wants to learn English because he wants to go to the Premier League.

"I am very happy for him. And for Bayern to sign a player from Liverpool is evidence of the attractiveness of the Bundesliga which they were afraid of losing."

Glasner said his team would not be "raising the white flag" of surrender against Bayern and would "do everything we can" to score the upset win, even if he sees Bayern as champions in waiting once again.

After Bayern comes the Madrid game for Eintracht in Helsinki.

"This morning I said it's actually cool for us," Glasner added. "We play the Champions League winners three years ago on Friday and the current Champions League winners on Wednesday. Quite a cool start. Nevertheless, I think that over the course of the Bundesliga season, Bayern will have the edge again."

David Raum has confidently described his move to RB Leipzig as "the most important transfer" in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The wing-back has gone from strength to strength in recent seasons, leading the 2. Bundesliga with 15 assists in Greuther Furth's 2020-21 promotion campaign before adding another 11 in the top flight last term after joining Hoffenheim.

Raum led all Bundesliga defenders in assists, as well as chances created (83) and expected assists (13.9), earning another transfer – this time to Leipzig.

And the Germany defender believes his arrival significantly boosts his new side in their bid to hunt down champions Bayern Munich.

"With the new additions that Bayern has brought in, they are probably clear favourites for the championship," he told a news conference.

"But I think we have a team that can also win titles. I want to strengthen this team, and then we'll see how much we can annoy Bayern. 

"Of course, the others have strengthened well. But I think the most important transfer was mine to RB Leipzig."

Raum's move comes ahead of the World Cup in Qatar, where the nine-cap Germany international is looking to secure a spot in Hansi Flick's side, and he revealed he spoke to the national team coach about his transfer.

"I was in close contact with national coach Hansi Flick, called him and took him with me on my way," he added.

"He is a coach who always wants to know what is going on in the players' minds, what the next step will be. 

"He was immediately convinced of the idea that I fit in well here and can take the next steps. I am firmly convinced that I can assert myself here and hopefully go to the World Cup."

Another Bundesliga campaign kicks off on Friday after a frantic close-season saw Germany's top flight robbed of its two biggest stars.

Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski left for Barcelona, while fellow striking sensation Erling Haaland departed Borussia Dortmund as expected for Manchester City.

What do these moves do to shake up the Bundesliga, then? Perhaps not an awful lot...

Stats Perform AI has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and have thrown up some interesting results, even if the title race is a little too predictable.

MANE TO MAINTAIN BAYERN DOMINANCE

Lewandowski's exit was offset by the arrival of Sadio Mane at Bayern, and Stats Perform AI expects Julian Nagelsmann's side to again charge clear at the top of the table.

Bayern have won 10 consecutive titles, so perhaps it is no surprise they are given an 84.93 per cent chance of taking the trophy home again in May.

That figure makes Bayern the most likely champions across all of Europe's top five leagues, with nearest contenders Dortmund only in with a 6.01 per cent shot.

RB Leipzig (4.64 per cent), Bayer Leverkusen (3.38 per cent) lead a group of 10 other clubs who are given at least a slim hope of winning the championship.

For six teams – including 2003-04 champions Werder Bremen and 2006-07 victors Stuttgart – their title tilt is over before a ball has even been kicked.

 

SCRAMBLE OUTSIDE THE TOP FOUR

Unfortunately, the top-four tussle appears as predictable as Bayern's coronation.

The champions will of course occupy one Champions League spot – their 99.53 per cent chance again the greatest across the top five leagues – while Dortmund (76.78 per cent), Leipzig (72.2 per cent) and Leverkusen (62.98 per cent) also look secure, forecast second, third and fourth respectively.

That means a return to Europe's elite competition for all of those who have qualified this year, even if Leipzig have leapfrogged Leverkusen.

Stats Perform AI suggests Union Berlin (4.66 per cent) and Freiburg (8.22 per cent) – one and three points outside the top four last term – have missed their shot, with Borussia Monchengladbach (22.94 per cent) and Eintracht Frankfurt (21.5 per cent) the most likely gatecrashers despite last season finishing 10th and 11th.

Eintracht are also in the Champions League this term after winning the Europa League, but they are considered the team most likely to return to the second-tier competition (13.32 per cent).

There could be a real scrap for those final European places, though. All but four teams have at least a 1.0 per cent likelihood of qualifying for the Europa Conference League, with title favourites Bayern one of those four.

 

SCHALKE AND WERDER FACE A FIGHT

Schalke and Werder – two of the great names of German football – have returned to the top flight following successful promotion campaigns in the 2. Bundesliga last season, but they face tricky first seasons back in the big time.

The ceiling for Schalke is a little higher, so Stats Perform AI has them finishing in the relegation play-off place in 16th.

This is despite two teams – Augsburg (14.02 per cent) and Werder (13.9 per cent) – being more likely to qualify for that play-off than Schalke (13.3 per cent).

Werder are ranked 17th, while the outlook for Augsburg is awful; 14th in the Bundesliga in 2021-22, they have a new coach in ex-Dortmund II boss Enrico Maassen and are considered a strong 38.19 per cent shot for relegation.

Bochum (30.84 per cent) are also in a little trouble, with Hertha Berlin (11.62 per cent) backed to pull away and finish 12th after their play-off scare last time out.

Borussia Dortmund will not be selling Jude Bellingham, but the Bundesliga giants are optimistic they will have a new striker on board by the end of next week.

England midfielder Bellingham has emerged as a target for some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Real Madrid reportedly among his admirers.

At just 19, he is entering his third Bundesliga campaign, having previously spent a year as a first-team regular with English second-tier side Birmingham City.

It appears Bellingham will still be a Dortmund player by the time the World Cup gets under way in November, with the German club eager to avoid a second star exit in this transfer window after Erling Haaland left for Manchester City.

Asked if he could rule out selling Bellingham, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said: "Yes, definitely, 100 per cent."

Dortmund's focus is on finding a striker to cover for the absence of Sebastien Haller, their Ivory Coast international whose testicular tumour has been confirmed as being malignant.

Haller, who joined from Ajax in the close season, will undergo chemotherapy treatment and is expected to be absent for several months.

Watzke acknowledged Haller faces a "relatively long" spell out of action and said it would be expecting too much to think that teenager Youssoufa Moukoko could step up week after week as a deputy.

Watzke told Sportschau.de: "To dump everything on Youssoufa Moukoko's shoulders – he is 17 years old – that might be a bit much.

"So I think we'll do something again in terms of personnel. A really good solution is also difficult because the range on the market is not exactly lavish.

"Ideally, something should happen in the next eight to 10 days."

The 2022-23 season is right around the corner, with plenty to keep an eye on across Europe.

Title battles in England, Spain and Italy could be too close to call, while France and Germany will see rivals trying to knock Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich off their respective perches – while there is even more set to occur in the fight for European qualification and to avoid the drop.

Central to these battles will be the players, both new signings and established members of the old guard, and here are 10 to watch in the year ahead.

 

Ousmane Dembele – Barcelona

Previously considered to be one of the biggest pieces of evidence on Barcelona's transfer failings in recent years, Dembele turned a corner in the second half of last season to finish the campaign as one of Xavi's most important players.

Dembele finished with 13 assists in LaLiga last term, the most in the competition, 11 of which came in the final 15 games of the season – with the tally being more in that run from February than he accumulated across all competitions combined in the previous two seasons.

Handed a fresh new contract, all eyes will be on Dembele to see whether he is back to his best or whether the former Borussia Dortmund winger, who now has Raphinha for competition, merely had a purple patch.

 

Matthijs de Ligt – Bayern Munich

It has now been three years since De Ligt shone with the Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi-finals, where his performances made him one of the most coveted players in world football.

Stability was never quite found at Juventus, however, with shoulder injuries hampering his progress and the defender himself admitting the style was a "bit different" in Turin to what he experienced with Ajax.

Now at Bayern, De Ligt will look to return to the heights he was once at and is expected to form an exciting partnership with Dayot Upamecano.

Rafael Leao – Milan

In Milan's title-winning campaign last term, Leao was the team's joint-leading scorer in Serie A with 11 goals, alongside Olivier Giroud, but that was way off the pace in the overall charts as 15 players found the net more times.

Milan's total tally for goals in 2021-22 was 69, less than three of their rivals in the top five, and pressure is on Stefano Pioli's side to improve that return – with the signing of Divock Origi showing the desire to improve their return in the final third, with rivals Inter having strengthened by bringing Romelu Lukaku back to San Siro on loan.

It may all fall upon Leao, however, with the 23-year-old needing to show consistency in order to prove a significant venture into the market next year to replace veterans Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not required.

 

Djed Spence – Tottenham

Middlesbrough will likely wonder what might had been if they retained Spence's services, having loaned him to Championship rivals Nottingham Forest and seeing him play a key part in their promotion back to the big time.

From September, the only two games Spence missed during Forest's league campaign were the two clashes with his parent club and his displays, including those in the FA Cup against the likes of Arsenal, made him hot property.

Spurs ultimately signed the England U21 international, who could be a contender to break into Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad if he quickly finds his feet in north London. He is a right-back, after all...

Darwin Nunez – Liverpool

Liverpool's prowess in the transfer market is facing its biggest test under Jurgen Klopp, who is looking to rejuvenate what has been a brilliant attacking trio with Sadio Mane moving on and Roberto Firmino's future uncertain.

Having signed Luis Diaz in January, the Reds raided a Portuguese giant again – this time Benfica – for Nunez.

Nunez scored six Champions League goals in the 2021-22 season and plundered a further 26 in the league, averaging a goal every 76 minutes. Nunez certainly has the capability to fill Klopp's Mane-shaped void, even if his style is slightly different to the Senegal attacker.

 

Matteo Guendouzi – Marseille

Swiftly breaking onto the scene at Arsenal but just as quickly earning himself a bad-boy reputation, Guendouzi flourished in his loan spell with Marseille last season and has now made the switch permanent.

The France international featured in every game for Marseille in the 2021-22 season, starting in 35 of his 38 Ligue 1 appearances, and forced his way back into contention to make Didier Deschamps' squad on a regular basis ahead of Les Bleus' World Cup defence in Qatar.

Guendouzi's growing maturity saw him captain Marseille in a 2-0 defeat against Lille last season and the forthcoming campaign may continue his redemption arc.

Adam Hlozek – Bayer Leverkusen

A name that will be familiar to Football Manager enthusiasts, Hlozek has earned his big move to one of Europe's top leagues after leaving Sparta Prague in his homeland for Bayer Leverkusen and the challenges of the Bundesliga.

Capable of playing across the front line, Hlozek heads to Germany with a stellar record of 29 goals and 30 assists in 91 league appearances in the top-tier in the Czech Republic.

Add in the 24 goals that compatriot Patrik Schick netted for Leverkusen last season along with the creativity of Florian Wirtz from midfield and the result is one that could be extremely exciting.

Vinicius Junior – Real Madrid

A formidable season for Vinicius saw the Brazilian net 17 goals and contribute 10 assists during Real Madrid's La Liga title-winning campaign, only being outscored by team-mate Karim Benzema in the league.

Benzema, who was one of only two players to get more assists than Vinicius last season, is now in the twilight years of his career and will soon surely hand the mantle to the next star forward at the Santiago Bernabeu – with Vinicius near-certain to be that man now Kylian Mbappe has decided to remain in Paris for the time being.

In a World Cup year, Vinicius could enjoy a campaign that sees him take the leading man tag for both club and country come the end of the season.

 

Hugo Ekitike – Paris Saint-Germain

Arriving into an attacking that already boasts Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi, it remains to be seen just how much football 20-year-old Hugo Ekitike will manage to play for Christophe Galtier's side.

Moving initially on loan, Ekitike, who was also a target for Newcastle United, is certainly one for the future.

With 10 goals and four assists for Reims last term, Ekitike has shown his prowess in the final third and could be a valuable asset in the hunt to end the elusive wait for a Champions League crown.

Samuele Ricci – Torino

Long touted as the next star in Italy's midfield, Samuele Ricci has moved on from Empoli but, to the surprise of some, did not take the leap to one of Serie A's big guns and instead continued his development by joining Torino in January.

Ricci featured 13 times for Torino, including nine starts in what was a stellar breakout year in Italy's top tier, with the 20-year-old having previously been crowned Serie B's best player in the 2020-21 season.

Breaking into Italy's squad in 2022, Ricci's meteoric rise should continue, and he may find himself coveted by some of the biggest clubs across Europe.

Chelsea are hoping to raid Leicester City for both Wesley Fofana and Jamie Vardy during this transfer period, with the former reportedly telling the club he wants out, while the latter's contract is set to expire in 12 months.

Fofana, 21, has emerged as one of the most valuable young defenders in the Premier League despite missing most of this past season with a broken leg. He has represented France's Under-21s, and appears on track to a long international career at the senior level.

Vardy, 35, has scored at least 13 goals in each Premier League season since 2014-15, and if he indicates he has no interest in signing a new contract to stay in Leicester, this transfer window will be their last opportunity to cash-in on the club legend.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA SET SIGHTS ON DYNAMIC LEICESTER DUO

While Vardy will likely have a significant say in his future due to his contract situation, the same cannot be said for Fofana, who recently signed an extension that ties him to the club through 2027.

90min reports both Chelsea and Manchester United are monitoring Vardy's situation, with the thought that he could potentially be a relatively cheap replacement option after Romelu Lukaku was shipped out on loan to Inter, as well as Timo Werner having one foot out the door.

There is no word about an asking price for Vardy, but according to ESPN, Leicester are adamant Fofana is not available at any price, despite previous rumours that they value him at £85million. 

Meanwhile, the Mirror claims that since the Stamford Bridge side's interest became clear, the centre-back has been actively pushing for the move to Chelsea, and he has removed any mention of Leicester from his social media pages.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sky Sports is reporting that Sampdoria have accepted Brentford's £16.7m bid for 22-year-old Danish midfielder Mikkel Damsgaard.

– According to 90min, if Tottenham cannot secure Roma forward Nicolo Zaniolo, they will switch attention to Wolves winger Adama Traore.

– Football League World is reporting Sevilla and Wolves will battle it out for the signing of 23-year-old striker Ben Brereton-Diaz from Blackburn Rovers.

– Fabrizio Romano claims Sevilla are also interested in United full-back Alex Telles, who is said to be behind both Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia in the club's pecking order. 

– The Guardian is reporting Chelsea are interested in Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters, and that an offer between £35m and £40m could get the deal done.

Timo Werner has only managed 23 goals in his first two seasons with Chelsea after joining from Leipzig in mid-2020.

The new Blues owners are open to allowing Werner, who signed on a five-year contract, to depart on loan.

The 26-year-old scored 95 goals in 159 appearances with Leipzig from 2016 to 2020.

TOP STORY – LEIPZIG LEAD RACE FOR CHELSEA'S WERNER

Leipzig are leading the race to sign Chelsea striker Werner ahead of Juventus, claims Fabrizio Romano.

The Bundesliga club met with Chelsea on Sunday, proposing a swap deal for Werner, who is Leipzig's main target.

Juventus and Newcastle United have also shown an interest in the Germany international. 

ROUND-UP

Barcelona are considering a move for Leipzig defender Angelino should they miss out on Chelsea full-back Marcos Alonso, claims Diario Sport.

Everton could make a move for forgotten Chelsea forward Michy Batshuayi, according to talkSPORT. The Toffees lost Richarlison to Tottenham last month and will turn to Batshuayi, who scored 14 goals on loan at Besiktas last season.

– Portuguese forward Diogo Jota is set to be rewarded for his strong second season at Anfield, with Liverpool to offer him a lucrative pay rise as part of a new deal, despite having three years to run on his contract, claims The Telegraph.

Napoli and Chelsea are in talks on a loan deal for Spanish goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, according to Sky Sports.

– Football Insider reports that Leicester City have informed Newcastle that midfielder James Maddison will cost them £60million as they circle for his signature.

– Leicester City are set to farewell goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel,  who is on the cusp of joining French Ligue 1 club Nice, reports the Mail.

Chelsea are showing they still have plenty of business to take care of during this transfer period, with reports they will make significant bids for Barcelona's Frenkie de Jong and Leicester City's Wesley Fofana.

De Jong has been a central figure in transfer news since the season ended, locked in an ongoing saga with Manchester United after they finally met Barcelona's asking price, only for the 25-year-old Dutch international to reveal he has no interest in heading to a club outside of the Champions League.

Meanwhile, Chelsea have been outgoing about their desire for another quality centre back to bring in along with Kalidou Koulibaly, and after Barcelona swooped in at the 11th hour to land Blues target Jules Kounde, Fofana is the new hot name in their hunt for a long-term solution in the middle of defence.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA PREPARE BIG-MONEY BIDS FOR DE JONG AND FOFANA

In the immediate aftermath of Barcelona securing Kounde, reports came out that Chelsea were then unwilling to do further business with the Spanish giants, withholding Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta.

However, that seems to have changed as Sport is reporting the Stamford Bridge side will make a bid for De Jong, who Barcelona value at €80million, and if a deal can be made, Barca will then immediately use some of those funds to sign Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva.

For the 21-year-old Fofana, who has represented France at the under-21 level, Leicester reportedly value him at £85m after recently locking him down on a five-year contract expiring in 2027. Paris Saint-Germain are also said to be interested in the Foxes' defender.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Athletic are reporting Chelsea have also put out a feeler for 26-year-old Inter defender Denzel Dumfries, while Sport Italia's Rudy Galetti claims they are also discussing Milan Skriniar.

– According to the Daily Mail, Newcastle United have turned their attention to Leicester winger Harvey Barnes after having their bid for James Maddison turned down.

Manchester United are reportedly weighing up moves for 25-year-old Stuttgart striker Sasa Kalajdzic and RB Salzburg 19-year-old Benjamin Sesko, with the latter said to be valued at over £50m.

– ESPN are reporting that if Manchester City cannot land Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella, then they will pivot to Borussia Dortmund's Raphael Guerreiro, who has 56 international caps for Portugal.

– Ekrem Konur has revealed that Aston Villa face stiff competition in their pursuit of Bodo/Glimt right-back Alfons Sampsted, with the 24-year-old Iceland international also drawing interest from Bayer Leverkusen, Lyon and Lazio.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.