Arsenal could look to offload Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The 26-year-old has not lived up to his billing after being signed in 2019.

Pepe has scored once in nine appearances for the Gunners this season.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN SET FOR JANUARY PEPE SWOOP

Italian giants Milan are interested in signing Arsenal's Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, claims Il Milanista.

Pepe has more than two years to run on his Gunners deal, having joined on a five-year contract from Lille in 2019 for a club-record fee of £72 million (€79m).

Arsenal may be willing to let Pepe go for a little as £25m in January.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea's Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta is on Barcelona's transfer radar, according to SPORT. The 32-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season.

- Tottenham have joined Inter in having an interest in signing Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, claims Kicker. Tolisso is out of contract at the end of this season.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that talks between Gavi and Barcelona on a five-year contract extension are progressing amid interest in the Spanish teenager from Chelsea.

- Jose Mourinho's Roma are considering a move to sign Atletico Madrid's Mexico international midfielder Hector Herrera in January, claims Calciomercato. Atletico are willing to cash in on Herrera, who is out of contract in mid-2022.

- Manchester City target Theo Hernandez is close to completing a contract renewal with Milan, according to Rudy Galetti. The Rossoneri have reached an agreement with him until 2026.

- FotoMac claims Mohamed Elneny's agent has reached an agreement with Arsenal for the Egyptian to leave in January. He was previously linked with Galatasaray.

- Lens midfielder Seko Fofana has been added to Newcastle United's shortlist of transfer targets, claims Foot Mercato.

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

Former United States coach Bob Bradley has left Los Angeles FC after four years in charge of the Major League Soccer team.

Bradley, 63, took charge of LAFC shortly before they joined the MLS ranks as an expansion team in 2018 and led them to top spot in the Western Conference in their second season.

He was named MLS coach of the year for a third time after that achievement but departs after a disappointing ninth-placed finish this year, failing to lead the team into the MLS Cup play-offs.

The announcement of his exit was made on the LAFC website, where it was stated: "LAFC and Bob Bradley today announced they have reached a mutual decision to part ways at the end of Bradley’s contract."

Bradley said: "It's been incredible to have played a part in the early history of LAFC. From the beginning there was a real commitment to connect to the city and the fans and we shared some amazing experiences."

LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington said: "Bob has been fantastic as the first and only head coach for this club. He provided strong leadership and has been a great ambassador for LAFC. Bob helped us develop a winning culture and established a legacy that will always be a part of LAFC’s history."

Bradley helped LAFC reach the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League final, where they were beaten 2-1 by Mexican side Tigres UANL.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has returned to Ibrox as the new manager of Rangers.

The former Netherlands international has been charged with replacing Steven Gerrard, who left the Scottish Premiership champions to take over as Aston Villa boss last week.

Van Bronckhorst won five trophies with the Glasgow giants in his playing days, including two league titles.

The 46-year-old masterminded Feyenoord's 2016-17 Eredivisie title triumph, while he also lifted the KNVB Cup twice and the Johan Cruyff Shield before taking charge of Chinese Super League club Guangzhou City last year.

Van Bronckhorst is relishing the challenge of winning more honours at Rangers.

The ex-Barcelona and Arsenal man will be fully in charge once he is granted a work permit.

"I am absolutely delighted to be returning to Rangers as the club's new manager," Van Bronckhorst told the Rangers official website.

"I feel so lucky to be going to work with a squad which is in a great position on all fronts and largely has that experience of being winners. I'm grateful for the chance to work again at this huge football club."

Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson revealed Van Bronckhorst had been earmarked as a potential replacement for Gerrard long before the Liverpool legend's departure.

He said: "I am delighted to welcome Gio back to Rangers. He was respected throughout Europe as a player and has already shown why he has that same respect as a coach.

"Gio has already shown himself to be a winner, he knows the club, he knows the quality of the squad and is absolutely aligned with our approach and mindset.

"Gio has been part of a long list of managers we have been tracking for a period of time to ensure we are always ready. When Steven intimated his decision last Wednesday, we immediately got to work on what was then a focused shortlist. We held initial talks within 48 hours and concluded our decision-making within six days of the role becoming available.

"We found agreement with Gio extremely quickly and we have enjoyed working with him on assembling the backroom team that will complement an already excellent support staff that we have built here at Rangers."

Defending Manning Cup champions Jamaica College remained winless after two games this season after falling to a shock 0-1 loss at home against Kingston Technical High School in Group A action on Wednesday.

Jaheem Bryan scored the winning goal for Kingston Technical that see them climb to fourth place in the group with three points, two more than Jamaica College that have one point from their two games so far. JC drew their opening match against Calabar High School 0-0.

Elsewhere in the group, Calabar secured a 5-0 win over Bridgeport in the 12:00 kick-off at Stadium East thanks to a Darren Chinnon hat trick.

In the 3:00 pm match at the same venue, Demar Brown got both goals as Charlie Smith defeated Kingston High 2-0.

Over in the rural DaCosta Cup competition, DeCarteret College and Bellefield High played to an exciting 2-2 draw in Group D action at the Manchester High School Field.

DeCarteret’s Alex Muschamp opened the scoring in the 57th minute with an acrobatic finish off a corner kick. DC doubled their lead two minutes later when team captain Douglas Whitely scored with a free-kick from beyond the half-line, the ball taking an awkward bounce over the head of Bellefield goalkeeper Chad Wright.

Bellefield would eventually rally and cut the deficit in half in the 70th minute through a tidy finish from Mark Rowe. They levelled the scores in the 87th minute through a Renardo Forquharson penalty.

DeCarteret College assistant coach, Merrick Plummer, put the result down to a loss in concentration by his team.

“We’re not happy because we were leading 2-0 until the last 20 minutes," he said. "We lost focus and the concentration level dropped so we ended up giving away the two late goals.”

Bellefield head coach Rayon Johnson regretted missed chances by his team.

“It’s not a happy moment to come out with a point. We started out well, created a few chances that we should have scored but it’s just unfortunate that we conceded and everything went on its head,” he said.

In other results:

 Group B

Green Pond 4 Godfrey Stewart 0

Mannings School 3 Green Island 1

Petersfield 3 Rusea’s 1

  

Group C

Munro College 1 Maggotty High 0

STETHS 0  B.B. Coke 0

 Group D

Christiana 5 Belair 1

Holmwood Technical 0 Manchester High 0

 Group F

Kemps Hill 1 Foga Road 3

Old Harbour 1 Garvey Maceo 2

 Group H

McGrath High 2 Charlemont 2

York Castle 3 St. Mary High 2

Ocho Rios High 0 Dinthill Technical 0

 

Bayern Munich are waiting to discover if Joshua Kimmich will be available to face Augsburg on Friday after he was in close contact with someone who may have coronavirus.

Julian Nagelsmann confirmed Kimmich missed training on Thursday as a precautionary measure and the Bundesliga champions are awaiting the results of his PCR test.

Kimmich, who has publicly confirmed he has not yet received either dose of his vaccine, was recently forced into isolation along with Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala due to being in close contact with Niklas Sule.

Sule withdrew from the Germany squad to face Liechtenstein and Armenia after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Kicker reported that Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala – who are all unvaccinated – are being split up for the rest of the Bayern squad due a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Josip Stanisic was the latest Bayern player to return a positive COVID-19 test this week, with the Bavarian giants stating on Wednesday that the fully-vaccinated Croatia defender is isolating at home but feels "fine".

Nagelsmann revealed Kingsley Coman will miss the clash with Augsburg due to a minor muscle problem, but Leon Goretzka is fully fit.

The Bayern head coach will make a late decision on whether Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Alphonso Davies feature on Friday after they only returned from international duty on the eve of the game.

Former England international Jack Rodwell has joined A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers for the 2021-22 season.

The 30-year-old ex-Everton and Manchester City midfielder had been without a club since being released by Sheffield United in June.

Rodwell, who only made two appearances in his 18 months with the Blades, spent a fortnight training with Wanderers and on Thursday signed a one-season deal.

"This move is really exciting for me, I've been looking at the opportunity to play in Australia for a couple of months and with my wife being from Western Sydney, the Wanderers was the perfect destination," said Rodwell.

"Australia is like a second home to me, it's my favourite country on Earth, it's where my wife and her family are from; we love the place.

"I honestly can't wait to play. With the opening match being the Sydney Derby, everyone in my family will be there watching so it is a huge opportunity and something I am really looking forward to.

"I'd like to thank the club for this opportunity, and hope I can repay the faith they have shown in me."

Big things were expected of Rodwell after he made his Everton debut aged only 16, but he lost his way following a move to City in 2012.

Eden Hazard is suffering through a "sad moment" in his career, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

Form and fitness woes have dogged Hazard since his big-money move to Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019.

The 30-year-old soared to global prominence during a glittering seven-year spell at Stamford Bridge during which he won the Premier League twice, but he has failed to recapture that brilliance at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With Hazard only on the fringes of Carlo Ancelotti's Madrid team this season, Martinez conceded the forward is not having the best of times.

"In the recent years, he has lived with it, but he has been concentrated on the national team," said Martinez, whose side secured their spot at the 2022 World Cup last week.

"We need him to arrive at the World Cup prepared. We have grown as a dressing room.

"Eden is in a sad moment, football-wise. He has left winners projects [but] he doesn't have the rhythm of competition."

Hazard has made just four starts in a total of 10 appearances in LaLiga this season, spending 350 minutes on the pitch.

That time has yielded only one assist, with Hazard yet to score this term.

In his 116 appearances for his country, Hazard has found the net 33 times, but has added only one to that tally during qualifying for Qatar 2022.

Paul Pogba's future continues to make headlines.

With his contract expiring, it remains to be seen whether he will remain at Manchester United.

United are believed to be ready to move on as Real Madrid lurk.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID READY TO POUNCE FOR POGBA

Manchester United have given up on keeping Pogba and Real Madrid have a "great opportunity" to sign the Frenchman, according to the front page of Thursday's Marca.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and the United star is no closer to a renewal at Old Trafford.

Madrid are continuing to circle Pogba, who has also been linked with former club Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Sport claims Barca are eyeing moves for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech and Bayern Munich star Kingsley Coman. Out-of-favour Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo have also been linked.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will extend his contract at Milan until 2023, reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

Chelsea are interested in signing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, says Foot Mercato. The 20-year-old is yet to play this season due to a serious leg injury.

- El Nacional reports Madrid and Chelsea will go head-to-head to land Monaco star Aurelien Tchouameni. The France international is also reportedly wanted by Juve, City, United, Liverpool, Bayern and Newcastle United.

Newcastle are eyeing Inter duo Stefan de Vrij and Marcelo Brozovic and Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, per The Times.

Jamaica head coach, Theodore Whitmore, is expected to be replaced as head coach of the country’s national team with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) technical committee on Wednesday, expected to meet and make the recommendation.

Whitmore, a former national player, who was a part of the country’s historic 1998 World Cup team, was in his third stint in charge of the Jamaica squad.  The Reggae Boyz have, however, struggled in the ongoing World Cup qualifiers despite being one of the pre-tournament favourites to do well.

After eight games the team is in 6th spot, seven places off the automatic qualification and play-off spots.  During the difficult run, which included a 3-0 home loss to Panama, the coach’s line-up choices and tactics have come into question.

Whitmore, however, has one of the best win percentages as a Jamaica coach and is only one of two to take the team to the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  According to yet to be confirmed reports, Whitmore is expected to be replaced by former England player Ricky Hill, a coach formerly at American USL Championship club Tampa Bay Rowdies.  Whitmore’s assistant Paul Hall will reportedly stay on as a part of the coaching unit.  The Jamaican team will resume its World Cup qualification with a home fixture against Mexico in January.

 

West Ham owner David Sullivan has forked out an eye-watering £100,000 ($21,013,467) to get striker Michail Antonio back to England with enough time to rest for Saturday’s English Premier League (EPL) encounter against Wolverhampton.

The striker had a private jet waiting for him at the airport soon after Jamaica played to a 1-1 draw against the United States, in the recently concluded round of World Cup qualifiers, where the in-form striker scored a thunderbolt.  In fact, Antonio scored both goals for Jamaica during the round after also getting the goal also El Salvador in another 1-1 draw for the Caribbean team.

Despite the 31-year-old's impact, Jamaica remains off the pace needed for qualification to next year’s World Cup as they are currently 6th in the standings, with six matches remaining. Antonio began appearing for the Caribbean team after switching nationality from England this year, both his parents were born in the Caribbean country,

The form of striker, who has scored six Premier League goals so far, has been crucial to a strong start to the season for West Ham, who are currently third in the EPL standings.  The forward has also scored one goal for the team in a Europa League campaign that sees them comfortably at the top of Group H.

 

Dani Alves is convinced he can still contribute on his Barcelona return despite his age and the absence of superstar Lionel Messi.

The 38-year-old re-joined the club on a free transfer on Friday, having left Sao Paulo in September over a contractual dispute after two years in Brazil.

The right-back will have to wait until January to add to his 391 appearances for Barcelona and will also hope to add to his list of trophies won with the club, which includes three Champions Leagues and six LaLiga titles.

Despite seemingly being in the twilight of his career, Alves is convinced he can play a part both on and off the field in spurring Barca back to the top.

"I have a little less hair but the desire will be just as great! I know what this club represents and I know what I can contribute, both inside and outside, creating synergy with the club, the fans," Alves said after his official unveiling. 

"After all, we have spoiled people for so many titles and maybe they are distrustful. But I think that if we all row towards the same side, the ship will reach the port."

 

Alves is not the only former player to have returned to Camp Nou, with club legend Xavi announced as the club's new head coach on November 6.

The Brazilian revealed that his former team-mate played a big part in bringing him back to Barcelona, claiming he was desperate to return and be part of Xavi's rebuilding project regardless of financial factors.

"I got heavy with the pressure. I told [Xavi] that I wanted to go back, that I wanted to help," Alves continued. "I was even so heavy that Xavi [said] he can't take it anymore! And Xavi told me that he was counting on me if I wanted to come.

"Many times people focus a lot on how much you are going to earn, what is your salary. For me, it is not important. I have never had anything.

"For me, it is important to support my family and the people I take care of, but it was not the time for that. It was the time to rebuild the team.

"I didn't even have to think. The rest is secondary, especially when one receives the call from Barca with the objective. We are ready for anything." 

Barcelona's financial issues prevented the club from extending Messi's contract, the six-time Ballon d'Or winner joining Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Alves regrets not being able to link up with his old team-mate, having provided the Argentine with 42 assists in their time together, but accepts that the club must look to the future.

"For me, the kid [Messi] is the greatest thing I've ever seen," Alves added. "You always miss the greats, especially when you have a good relationship.

"It would be incredible to come back to see him here, but unfortunately, it could not be like that. I love him and his family very much, but now we are in a new process.

"I would encourage everyone to return if they could because this is the best place. But the story is different now and we have to think about the process."

Barcelona president Joan Laporta has not ruled out the possibility of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta returning to the club in the future.

Speaking at an event presenting Dani Alves to over 10,000 fans at the Camp Nou, Laporta suggested the return of the Brazilian right-back might not be the only reunion in the coming years.

Iniesta left Barca to sign for Japanese side Vissel Kobe in 2018, while debts of more than €1.2billion meant the Blaugrana could not afford to sign Messi to a new contract, leading to the Argentine moving to Paris Saint-Germain in August.

 

"I do not rule it out," Laporta said when asked about the possibility of Messi and Iniesta returning.

"It has happened with Dani, and I want to thank him because he has seen the situation of the club and wants to come to help."

Alves is the first signing for new head coach, Xavi, and penned a deal until the end of the season, but will not be eligible to play until January.

"I also thank him for making an economic effort. We are going to reverse this situation, but now he has made this effort. It has to be appreciated," Laporta added.

"These are people who have made this club great. Messi and Iniesta are spectacular, I cannot predict the future, as they are still playing, but they have made the club great, we always keep them in mind, although now they have contracts with other clubs and you have to respect that, but in life you never know."

Laporta was also asked about contract renewals, with speculation around new deals for Ousmane Dembele and Gavi, to which he replied: "Hopefully we can achieve more renewals soon."

Alves was asked about Dembele, who has also received a vote of confidence from Xavi in recent days. The 38-year-old said: "He needs to understand that he's playing for Barca. It's my mission to remind that to him, that he's really good, that he's phenomenal and that he can achieve great things at this club."

Bayern Munich have revealed defender Josip Stanisic has tested positive for coronavirus.

The Bundesliga champions on Thursday confirmed Stanisic, who is fully vaccinated, is isolating at home but feels "fine".

Stanisic came on as a substitute in Croatia's 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Russia on Sunday.

It has been reported that another two Bayern employees have returned positive COVID-19 tests.

Stanisic's team-mate Niklas Sule withdrew from the Germany squad to face Liechtenstein and Armenia after he tested positive for the virus.

Joshua Kimmich, who has publicly confirmed he has not yet received either dose of his vaccine, was forced into isolation along with Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala due to being in close contact with Sule.

The Bavarian giants returned to Bundesliga action with a trip to Augsburg on Friday.

Real Madrid are well-known admirers of Kylian Mbappe.

The Spanish giants have been linked with a January move for the winger.

Mbappe has indicated he will leave Paris Saint-Germain in the near future.

 

TOP STORY – REAL TO REMAIN PATIENT FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid will not chase a deal for Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe during the January transfer window, claims Mundo Deportivo.

Los Blancos have been pursuing the 22-year-old France international who is out of contract at the end of this season.

There had been speculation about when Madrid would move for Mbappe, given his contract status, but it is anticipated they will patiently wait until the off-season when he is a free agent.

ROUND-UP 

- Sky Sports Germany claims that Juventus could make a move for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel in January. The report claims that Witsel is keen on a quick move.

- Philippe Coutinho is set to snub cashed-up Newcastle United in January as he does not want to leave Barcelona, claims Sport.

- Barcelona are set to table a €40million offer for Red Bull Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi according to Sport1, although Dortmund remain favourites to sign the teenager.

- Wolverhampton are ready to cash in Spanish winger Adama Traore in January with Barcelona circling to rival Liverpool for his signature, reports 90min.

- Former Chelsea manager Frank Lampard is not in consideration for the vacant Rangers head coaching position following Steven Gerrard's exit, reports Sky Sports.

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