What does the future hold for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

His position as Manchester United manager is becoming more uncertain after an embarrassing loss to Liverpool.

A former Premier League-winning boss, Antonio Conte, is believed to be waiting in the wings.

 

TOP STORY – CONTE EYEING UNITED ROLE?

The Manchester United job would be a priority for Antonio Conte should the Red Devils part with embattled manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, according to Sportitalia journalist Gianluigi Longari.

Solskjaer is facing fierce criticism following Sunday's humiliating 5-0 defeat to Premier League rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Former Inter and Chelsea boss Conte has been linked with Newcastle United following talk of a pre-season move to Tottenham, while the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag and Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino could reportedly be considered for the United role.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is in talks with Manchester City, Tottenham and Juventus, per Gianluca Di Marzio. The Germany international is available on a free transfer at season's end amid reported interest from Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Marcelo wants to leave Madrid for Fluminense in 2022, claims El Nacional. Marcelo is out of contract at the end of the season.

- El Nacional says Barcelona have decided to sell United States international Sergino Dest. The 20-year-old has struggled for form at Camp Nou and he has been linked with Bayern.

Inter and Juve both identified Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic and Sampdoria's Mikkel Damsgaard, per Calciomercato. Vlahovic has also been linked with City, Atletico Madrid, Tottenham and Arsenal.

- Calciomercato claims Serie A high-flyers Milan are eyeing Brest midfielder Romain Faivre.

 

Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona all pursued Erling Haaland in the recent transfer window.

The 21-year-old Norway forward opted to stay with Borussia Dortmund.

But the race will heat up again at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Manchester United still want to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and will make a move next European summer, reports the Express.

United made a major transfer splash when they landed Cristiano Ronaldo last month but remain in the Haaland race.

The Red Devils are looking to end their trophy drought and added Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho along with Ronaldo for this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- United are leading the way in the chase to sign Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund, according to The Sun. The 18-year-old is being pursued by Chelsea and Manchester City too.

- The Sun reports that United are planning a clear-out at the end of this season, including Donny van de Beek , Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to free up funds.

- Calciomercato reports that Juventus have identified Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic as a transfer target in the January window on loan.

- Ligue 1 club Lens could make a bid for Liverpool's Belgium international forward Divock Origi , claims Fichajes.

- Crystal Palace are interested in signing US international forward Daryl Dike from Orlando City, reports The Sun. Dike is set to command a £18m fee.

- Transfer expert Ekrem Konur claims that Flamengo have tabled an offer to sign Brazilian veteran Dani Alves.

Could Raheem Sterling leave Premier League champions Manchester City?

The Englishman has slipped down the pecking order in 2021-22.

LaLiga giants Barcelona are reportedly ready to offer Sterling regular football.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Barcelona are targeting a loan move for Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, according to Sport.

Sterling has fallen out of favour under Pep Guardiola this season, leading to speculation over his City future.

The England international is reportedly open to reunion with former City team-mate Sergio Aguero at Barca.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Independent claims Manchester United are prioritising a move for West Ham's Declan Rice. The Red Devils are eyeing Rice to partner Paul Pogba, who himself is the subject of transfer speculation. Out of contract at the end of the season, Pogba has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid and Juventus.

Lazio are interested in free agent Dani Alves following his Sao Paulo exit, reports Calciomercato. The former Barca and Juve full-back terminated his contract and reportedly met with Brazilian rivals Flamengo.

- Fabrizio Romano says Roma are preparing a new five-year contract for Lorenzo Pellegrini, who has been linked with Premier League clubs.

- Serie A champions Inter are weighing up a move for Torino defender Bremer at the end of the season, says Calciomercato. The Brazilian has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- According to Calciomercato, City have not given up on signing Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic. The Serbia international forward was linked with City as well as Tottenham, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid before the transfer window closed.

Luka Jovic is on the radar of Juventus, per Calciomercato. Jovic is out of favour at Madrid, with the Serbia international originally tipped to return to Eintracht Frankfurt on a permanent basis.

David Luiz has completed a move to Brazilian club Flamengo following his exit from Arsenal at the end of last season.

The 34-year-old returns to his homeland 14 years after departing Vitoria for spells with European clubs Benfica, Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

He won 19 trophies across that period, which includes two separate stints at Stamford Bridge, while also helping Brazl to Confederations Cup success in 2013.

Having been linked with numerous clubs since his two-year stay with Arsenal came to an end in June, David Luiz has now put pen to paper on a deal until December 2022 with Rio de Janeiro-based Flamengo.

The experienced defender is Flamengo's third arrival of the mid-year window following the loan signings of Camilo Duran, Andreas Pereira and Kenedy, the latter two joining from Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.

Willian has returned to boyhood club Corinthians after terminating his contract with embattled Premier League side Arsenal.

After just one season at Arsenal, Willian agreed to tear up his contract despite it having two years remaining in London, having signed from rivals Chelsea on a three-year deal in 2020.

Following the confirmation of Willian's Arsenal departure by mutual consent in anticipation of a Sao Paulo homecoming, Corinthians announced the 33-year-old's arrival.

"I want to thank the fans for their affection, too," Willian – a two-time Premier League champion – said. "I'm getting a lot of messages. I'll do everything to bring joy to Corinthians fans!" 

Willian played for Corinthians' youth teams between 1998 and 2006 before stepping up to the senior side in 2006-07 prior to his switch to Ukrainian powerhouse Shakhtar Donetsk 14 years ago.

Before leaving for Europe in 2007, Willian scored two goals in 41 appearances across all competitions for Corinthians.

At Arsenal, Willian made 37 appearances in all competitions during the 2020-21 season, scoring just the one goal from 27 shots.

He did set up seven goals for team-mates, easily outperforming his expected assists total of 3.14, with two of them coming from dead-ball situations.

However, Willian only made four Premier League starts after the turn of the year as Mikel Arteta went with alternative options in his team.

"I want to thank you for the effort, board, technical committee," Willian said. "I respect this crowd a lot, the affection they have for me. I am back!"

Willian leaves an Arsenal side struggling amid mounting pressure on manager Arteta.

Arsenal are winless and goalless after three Premier League games for the first time ever, Manchester City crushing the Gunners 5-0 on Saturday.

That loss extended the Gunners' top-flight losing run to nine against City, their outright longest-ever run of consecutive defeats against an opponent in their league history.

Indeed, Arsenal are just the second team after Wolves in 2003-04 to lose their first three games and have a goal difference of minus-nine – a season in which Wolves finished bottom of the table.

Kylian Mbappe is dominating headlines amid Real Madrid's pursuit.

Madrid are keen to prise Mbappe to the LaLiga club, though Paris Saint-Germain are in no hurry to part with the soon-to-be free agent.

Due to PSG's tough stance, Madrid could back out of negotiations.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID GIVE PSG ULTIMATUM

Real Madrid could walk away from their pursuit of Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to Le Parisien.

While Mbappe is out of contract at the end of the season, Madrid have been attempting to prise the Frenchman from PSG before the transfer window shuts.

The report claims Madrid will walk away from negotiations if a deal is not completed by Sunday.

There has been talk that PSG could target Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland as a replacement for Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

Lautaro Martinez has agreed to sign a new contract with Inter, per Gianluca Di Marzio. Out of contract in 2023, the Argentina international – linked with the likes of Barcelona, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United – will re-sign for four to five years at €6million per season.

Willian will join Corinthians on a free transfer after Arsenal granted his release, says Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also claims Feyenoord are close to bringing United sensation Amad Diallo to the Eredivisie club on loan.

- Widespread reports say Moise Kean is set to undergo a medical at Juventus as he gears up to join from Everton. It comes as Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to return to United. Juve are also eyeing PSG forward Mauro Icardi.

Dortmund are working on a loan deal for Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi, according to Sky Germany. Hudson-Odoi has long been coveted by Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich. Dortmund are also looking to bring in United full-back Diogo Dalot.

Chelsea are nearing a transfer that will see Jules Kounde arrive from Sevilla after Kurt Zouma departed for West Ham, reports Goal. Chelsea are also reportedly still targeting Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez, who is wanted by United.

Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira completed a season-long loan move to Brazilian giants Flamengo on Friday.

Pereira swaps United for Flamengo, who have the option to buy the one-time Brazil international at the end of the loan deal.

It comes after Flamengo signed Kenedy on loan from Premier League powerhouse and Champions League holders Chelsea.

"Amazing feeling," Pereira told Flamengo TV after arriving at the airport. "I am very happy. I want to work, I want to get here to win titles, help the team and do my best. 

"It's an inexplicable feeling. I did the entire pre-season with Manchester. So I'm prepared to play. I'm really looking forward to starting work."

Pereira has made 75 appearances and scored four goals across all competitions since his United debut in 2015, however, the 25-year-old will spend another season away from Old Trafford.

After loan spells at Granada in 2016-17 and Valencia in 2017-18, Pereira was loaned to Serie A's Lazio last season, scoring one goal in 33 appearances.

Kenedy has extended his contract with Chelsea and agreed to return to Brazil to join Flamengo on a season-long loan.

The 25-year-old previously had a deal in place to stay at Stamford Bridge until 2022, though a new longer-term contract will keep him with the Champions League winners until 2023.

The versatile wide player, who joined from Fluminense in August 2015, has been loaned out four times in the last five seasons, making just 27 first-team appearances for the Blues and scoring three goals.

He has spent the last two campaigns playing in Spain, for Getafe and then Granada, after spells to varying degrees of success with Premier League sides Watford and Newcastle United.

During his time at Newcastle in 2018-19, Kenedy attempted the second most dribbles at the club (61) and was successful in just over half of his ball carries, despite playing only 25 top-flight games.

Kenedy continued in similar fashion with Granada, whom he netted for four times in 28 LaLiga appearances, while also ranking joint-second for dribbles attempted and completing just over half of the 72 he tried.

The Brazilian also played the fourth most passes into the box last term, including crosses, swinging in 63 passes and creating 10 chances from open play.

There will be home comforts aplenty for Kenedy with Flamengo, who share their stadium - the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro - with former club Fluminense, and he will be hoping to help the reigning champions of Brazil to another Serie A title this season.

Manchester United's Andreas Pereira may also join the Chelsea loanee in Brazil, with reports linking the midfielder with a loan to the Brazilian outfit.

Diego Costa will play senior football in Brazil for the first time after reaching an agreement to sign with Atletico Mineiro.

Costa has been a free agent since Atletico Madrid agreed to terminate his contract to end his second spell at the club.

He has come to terms on a deal until December next year to join a club fighting for both domestic and continental honours.

Having started his career at Barcelona Capela, Costa has never played professionally at club level in the country of his birth. He won two international caps for Brazil before switching his allegiance to Spain.

He will now change that with Atletico Mineiro, who are five points clear at the top of Brazil's Serie A and in the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores against River Plate.

Costa claimed 10 major honours across his spells with Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, twice winning both LaLiga and the Premier League while also lifting the Copa del Rey, Europa League and the EFL Cup.

He scored 83 goals in 216 appearances for Atleti and showed he can still have a clinical touch in limited game time last season, scoring twice from five shots from an expected goals figure of 1.4 in LaLiga.

Atletico Mineiro will hope he can roll back the years and help them to success on several fronts. Holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg, they host River in the second leg of their quarter-final on Thursday.

When we look ahead to the Olympics, we usually think about track & field sports, swimming, cycling, maybe even wrestling and boxing.

Given it dominates so much of the sporting agenda for the rest of the year, football may not be among those sports we initially associate with the Olympics, but it has offered numerous stars the opportunity to show their talents to a global audience and to potentially take home a coveted medal.

Of course, the Olympic football tournament is geared more towards lesser-established players, given the age-restriction rules in place.

While teams are usually allowed no more than three players over the age of 23, that age limit has been increased to 24 so not to penalise those around the cut-off who may well have missed out as a result of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Superstars such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi may be missing, but there are still plenty of familiar faces. Barcelona's Pedri will be involved after starring for Spain at Euro 2020; Brazil great Dani Alves is joined by Arsenal and Everton forwards Gabriel Martinelli and Richarlison; and dynamic Milan midfielder Franck Kessie will be the Ivory Coast's go-to man.

But there are plenty of other relatively unheralded talents ready to make you sit up and take note. Below, Stats Perform takes a look at 10 of them.

Facundo Medina, 22, centre-back – Argentina

It's fair to say Lens defender Medina has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence. The French side brought him in from Club Atletico Talleres just last July and he's already being mentioned as a potential target for clubs like Manchester United.

While he may not be the most physically imposing central defender, he's a good technician, which is demonstrated by his ease on the ball – only three Ligue 1 centre-backs (more than 1,000 minutes played) embarked on more ball carries per 90 minutes (20) than Medina, while his average of 56 successful passes per game was more than any of his team-mates.

Bryan Gil, 20, winger – Spain

La Roja's squad is packed with familiar names – as many as six were at Euro 2020, and that doesn't include the likes of Marco Asensio, Carlos Soler and Dani Ceballos. But of the players with less global recognition, old-fashioned left-winger Bryan is arguably the most exciting.

He just completed a very encouraging loan spell away from Sevilla with Eibar, where his direct and brave style of play was frequently on display, with only Lionel Messi, Javi Galan and Yannick Carrasco attempting more dribbles than him (132). In January he became only the second player born this century to score a LaLiga brace, and he won his first senior Spain caps this year.

 

Diego Lainez, 21, winger – Mexico

It feels like Lainez has been tipped for a big future for a long time now – after all, he first burst on to the scene with Club America four years ago. Two-and-a-half years into his time in LaLiga with Real Betis, he's yet to really establish himself with only 13 of his 48 league appearances coming as a starter. He's still not scored a goal.

But there's no doubting he's a talent. In 2020-21, he attempted a dribble every 17 minutes, which was a record among Betis players and ahead of even Nabil Fekir (21 mins). Lainez is an entertainer and clearly gifted, but perhaps lacking consistency in his end product. Who knows, as one of the more talented players in the Mexico squad, being seen as a go-to player may aid his quest for maturity.

Teji Savanier, 29, central midfielder – France

Savanier is the odd one out in this list, given he's the only one who actually counts towards an over-age quota, though it could be argued that it's to players like him that playing at the Olympics may matter the most. Savanier's never even played for France's youth teams, let alone the senior side, and he only made his top-flight bow as recently as 2018, but he's one of those central midfielders that's a joy to watch with his wonderful ability on the ball.

He has completed 58.4 per cent of his 279 dribbles in Ligue 1 since July 2018, which is bettered by only three players (more than 150 attempts) in the same period. For greater context, Neymar's completion rate in that time is 52.5 per cent. Savanier should also provide France with a threat at set-pieces, as only Benjamin Bourigeaud created more chances (40) from such situations than the Montpellier star (37) in 2020-21.

 

Thiago Almada, 20, attacking midfielder – Argentina

La Albiceleste's squad boasts numerous talented young attacking players – Ezequiel Barco, Pedro de la Vega, Ezequiel Ponce, but Almada's arguably rated highest of the lot.

A diminutive attacking midfielder from Carlos Tevez's old neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Fuerte Apache, Almada is skilful, explosive and creative. Among players born this century, Almada boasts the best chances created per game frequency (two) in the Copa Libertadores (at least two games played) this season, as well as being the youngest player to have netted at least twice in the competition in 2021.

Claudinho, 24, forward – Brazil

All roads point to Europe for Claudinho, who looks poised to be the first major export of Red Bull Bragantino, the energy drink giant's Brazilian club. While no move has been confirmed yet, it seems only a matter of time before RB Leipzig look to bring him over to Germany.

 

After all, he was the joint-top scorer in the 2020 Brasileirao (18 goals), with his finishing abilities highlighted by the fact a league-high seven of those were scored from outside the box. Claudinho also created 25 more chances than anyone else in the division, and scooped both the Young Player of the Year and MVP awards.

 

Nathanael Mbuku, 19, winger – France

He may not necessarily be a starter for Les Bleus, given they've plenty of attacking talent in the squad, but at the very least left-winger Mbuku could be an interesting option from the bench. Reims are reported to already value him at €15million, and he has previous when it comes to excelling in national team colours – he netted five goals in six games as France finished third at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup.

Mbuku enjoyed a smattering of Ligue 1 appearances that season, though it was in 2020-21 that he truly established himself, making 28 starts – that was tied with Eduardo Camavinga for the most by a player born in 2002 or after. He caught the eye with his ability to beat a man, completing a highly respectable 58.1 per cent of his 74 dribbles last term, a completion rate bettered by only 10 players who attempted at least 70.

Felix Uduokhai, 23, centre-back – Germany

Wolfsburg plucked Uduokhai from 1860 Munich in 2017 with much expected of him. He fell well out of favour in his second season before moving on loan to Augsburg, who triggered their purchase option on him last year. Since moving to Bavaria, he's hardly looked back.

He earned his first senior call-up to the Germany team in November and now there is chatter that some of the Bundesliga's biggest clubs are circling for him again. Whoever gets Uduokhai will land an imposing centre-back whose 102 aerial wins was the fourth-highest in the league last term, while only Amos Pieper (160) bettered his 157 clearances.

 

Brenno, 22, goalkeeper – Brazil

For years, goalkeeper was considered the only position where Brazil struggled to develop world-class players, though Alisson and Ederson have firmly disproved that notion and Brenno could be another to keep an eye on.

In the 2021 Brasileirao, Brenno is averaging the fourth-most amount of saves per 90 minutes (3.5) among those to have played at least four times, and is reportedly interesting Portuguese clubs. A solid showing in Japan might see a potential transfer sped up.

Amad Diallo, 19, winger – Ivory Coast

Manchester United fans will be eager to get a good look at Amad during the Olympics, given they only got glimpses of him in 2020-21 after joining from Atalanta. Amid those eight appearances, he certainly showed flashes of his exciting ability and silky footwork, but they will hope to see some performances of a little more substance.

As much as anything, it could be an opportunity for Amad to earn himself a loan move or prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he's worth keeping around. Jadon Sancho's arrival will likely further impact his exposure to first-team football, but impressing in Japan might encourage his manager to use him as a regular back up to the England international, with Mason Greenwood moved into a central position.

Corinthians fined star forward Jo for wearing green boots, the colour of their arch Brazilian rivals Palmeiras.

Former Manchester City forward Jo sparked backlash after wearing light green boots in Sunday's goalless draw away to Bahia in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A.

After Corinthians fans were left outraged, the club sanctioned and warned the former Brazil international, who is prohibited from wearing the boots again, even in training.

"Sport Club Corinthians Paulista's football board communicates that they spoke with striker Jo about the use of football boots in the match against Bahia, this Sunday," a statement read.

"The player was warned, fined and will not wear them again, neither in training or in games."

Jo, who emerged from Corinthians' youth team in 2003 before going on to play for the likes of CSKA Moscow, Everton and Galatasaray, issued an apology.

"I would never use green boots because of my history with Corinthians, a club I have loved since I was little," the 34-year-old said in a statement via Veja.

"I would never disrespect Corinthians, much less the fans. I have always honoured this shirt and I always will honour it."

Corinthians and Palmeiras share one of the fiercest and oldest rivalries in Brazilian football – the Paulista derby.

The Paulista derby is ranked among the 10 greatest derbies in world football.

Palmeiras are fourth in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A through five games this season, five points better off than 11th-placed Corinthians.

Corinthians last won the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A in 2017, while Palmeiras – winners in 2018 – conquered the Copa Libertadores last year.

Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is weighing up offers but the outgoing Italian great is set to reject Flamengo as he floated the possibility of retirement.

Buffon will leave Juventus at the end of the season, having re-joined the Serie A powerhouse two years ago after spending the 2018-19 campaign at Paris Saint-Germain.

The 43-year-old star has been linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona as well as clubs in MLS and the Middle East, while Flamengo are also reportedly interested.

Buffon discussed his future after saving a penalty in Wednesday's 3-1 victory at Sassuolo.

"I've received some interesting offers, I want to see in 20 days if I will still have enthusiasm and desire to work hard," Buffon told Sky Sport Italia post-match.

"If I still feel to be Buffon, I'll accept the offer. Otherwise, I will retire."

On the Flamengo speculation, with the Brazilian champions led by former goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, Buffon told TNT Sports Brazil: "Flamengo contacted me to join them as a free agent but I think I'm not gonna accept.

"I'll stay closer [to Turin]... that's what I hope."

Buffon became the oldest goalkeeper to have saved a penalty in Serie A after denying Sassuolo's Domenico Berardi from the spot midweek.

This season, Buffon has made eight Serie A appearances and 13 across all competitions.

Could Luis Suarez return to Liverpool, where he spent three and half seasons from 2011 to 2014?

The Uruguayan forward has been a key part of Atletico Madrid's LaLiga title push this term, with 19 league goals.

The Reds are reportedly keen to bolster their forward options, with Suarez on their list.

 

TOP STORY – REDS PREPARING SUAREZ OFFER

Liverpool are interesting in the return of Suarez this off-season and are preparing an offer for the Atletico Madrid forward, according to Fichajes.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp reportedly wants to add experience to his front line and 34-year-old Suarez fits the bill.

Suarez scored 82 goals in 133 appearances for the Reds in his previous stint before joining Barcelona.

ROUND-UP

- Spanish outlet Cope claims that Real Madrid are not contemplating a move for Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo despite widespread speculation of a return. The report says Madrid are focused on the future rather than a veteran player whose career is winding down.

- Barcelona are planning to release Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho this off-season due to their financial issues, allowing them to retain young talent Pedri, Ilaix Moriba and Ansu Fati, according to El Confidencial.

- On the topic of Barcelona, Sport is claiming the Catalans have approved the signings of Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool and Memphis Depay from Lyon and are awaiting validation from their new board.

- Diego Costa has reached an agreement to join Benfica as a free agent, according to Mundo Deportivo. Costa left Atletico Madrid in December and returned to his native Brazil.

- Manchester United are considering a move to sign 24-year-old Villarreal defender Pau Torres in the off-season, according to the Manchester Evening News.

- Galatasaray, Flamengo or Marseille are the primary options to be Arturo Vidal's next home as he is set to leave Inter, reports Calciomercato.

Chelsea are not giving up in their pursuit of Bayern Munich star David Alaba.

Alaba, 28, is linked with numerous European giants, with Real Madrid reportedly leading the race to sign the defender.

But it seems Chelsea are unwilling to give up.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA STILL EYEING MADRID TARGET ALABA

Chelsea will attempt to hijack Real Madrid's move for Bayern Munich defender Alaba, according to The Guardian.

It was reported Alaba, who is out of contract at the end of the season, had agreed to a four-year deal with Madrid.

Chelsea have been linked with numerous centre-backs.

Goal reports the Premier League club's signing plans are linked to Bayern Munich's transfer plans as the Bundesliga giants are favourites to sign RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano.

Upamecano and Niklas Sule, another Bayern defender, are also said to be targets for Chelsea.

 

ROUND-UP

- Can Manchester City land Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland? The Daily Star reports City bosses believe winning the Premier League will help them beat Chelsea to Haaland in a £100million (€114m) deal.

- Tottenham have won just two of their past 10 Premier League matches, leading to talk about Jose Mourinho's future. The Telegraph reports the Spurs head coach is under pressure but not in imminent danger of being sacked.

- Manchester United are targeting a deal for Norwich City right-back Max Aarons as they seek competition for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, according to the Daily Express.

- Following Andre Villas-Boas' exit, Marseille are looking for a new coach. Le 10 Sport reports Atletico Mineiro boss Jorge Sampaoli is the favourite to take charge of the Ligue 1 club.

There was huge adversity in the early stages of Yeferson Soteldo's career.

He grew up in the underprivileged neighbourhood of El Muertico in the city of Acarigua, where he claims an early grave was the likely alternative to a career in professional football, and although he gained a spot in the academy of Caracas – Venezuela's most successful club – he was thrown out aged 14 for "indiscipline".

Furthermore, there were huge question marks over his physical capability to make it as a pro – now 23, he only stands at five feet and two inches tall.

But Venezuela's most-decorated coach Noel Sanvicente gave him a second chance at Zamora and put him on the path to Saturday's Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  

In Messi's footsteps

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is an obvious inspiration for a number of players, but Soteldo felt a stronger connection than most to the Barcelona superstar as he worked his way through spells with Zamora, Huachipato and Universidad de Chile before ending up at Santos in 2019.

"Everyone was talking about my height, that I was not going to be able to play football because of my size, because I was very small. Now I'm here, I got over it," Soteldo told the official Libertadores website.

"That's for the young ones who are little too. They can see Soteldo and say, 'I can too.' I did that with Messi. I saw he was small, that he made it and I can too."

Since his arrival in the Campeonato Brasileiro, it is not just his short stature and bleached blond hair that have made him stand out on the pitch.

Soteldo has established himself as one of the league's most potent wingers, his low centre of gravity, incredible pace and quick feet making him a serious threat when in possession out wide.

It is no surprise he has attempted more dribbles (308) than anyone else since the start of the 2019 Brasileiro, but it is what he does in those moments that makes him dangerous.

Soteldo averages a carry with a shot every other game (0.6) in Brazil's top flight and creates a chance following a carry at least once per 90 minutes (1.1) – a league-leading amount among players to have featured for at least 1,800 minutes over the past two seasons.

That ability has seen him directly set up five goals and score three following a carry, accounting for over one third of his 22 goal involvements (13 scored, nine assisted) in the competition.

It is tough for defenders to stop him and he is unrelenting. Per 90 minutes, he averages 5.3 carries of at least 10 metres and 3.8 carries with a take on – the latter being the most among active players in the division.

Stepping up

He has managed to translate that form to the Libertadores this season, with only Carlos Tevez (30) and Nicolas de la Cruz (31) supplying more key passes than Soteldo (28) in the competition.

However, Soteldo has played one game fewer and averages three chances created per game, so would be expected to move level with De la Cruz after the final.

Carries have again formed a key part of the Venezuelan's output, with 11 of his key passes coming after a carry – three more than any other player – though only one has resulted in an assist.

This does not mean Soteldo is consistently involved, though. In this season's Libertadores he has 22 direct chance involvements, where his only contribution in those open play sequences was to create the chance. No player in the competition has more direct chance involvements and it shows the 23-year-old is always capable of popping up with a killer ball.

The next step

Life at the Vila Belmiro has not been a walk in the park for Soteldo.

Santos accepted a transfer bid from Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal last October but Soteldo opted against the move because of his desire to play in Europe.

The Brazilian side were only keen to sell to avoid a punishment from FIFA over fees owed to Huachipato following his arrival at the club, with a financial crisis making his future look increasingly uncertain.

In South America's biggest club game, at one of the continent's most famous stadiums, Soteldo can have a huge say in what happens next for him.

His journey to this point proves he will not let anything stand in his way.   

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