Pep Guardiola insisted he is enjoying the pressure that comes with Manchester City's bid for the Premier League and Champions League titles after his team thrashed Leeds United 4-0.

Rodri and Nathan Ake converted from set pieces to put City in control of their Premier League clash at Elland Road, as the visitors reached 18 set-piece goals in the league this season (excluding penalties) – the highest tally in the competition.

Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho added some gloss to the scoreline late on as City returned to the Premier League summit, having been overtaken by Liverpool after the Reds' 1-0 win over Newcastle United earlier on Saturday. 

City are now unbeaten in eight league games, while title rivals Liverpool have dropped just two points in their last 14 games in the competition, but Guardiola insisted he was relishing the pressure of the title race after securing an "incredible" victory.

"I prefer to feel the pressure than to not feel it! It means we have a chance to do it," he told Sky Sports. 

"It's a long season but now it's the last effort, we have a final in Madrid in four days and after, the last four games of the Premier League.

"Today was so important, you know, to make our chances to be champions alive again.

"We suffered a lot in the first half, but after the second goal we had control and we could have scored more goals. It's an incredible result for us, so important. 

"We defended well, sometimes set pieces are so important, with Nathan Ake on the pitch we are really strong. What a game [Aymeric] Laporte played. He played an incredible game. We have five games, potentially six [if City make the Champions League final], to end the season."

In completing their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82 – a season that saw the Yorkshire club relegated from the top flight – City recorded their fifth successive away clean sheet in the Premier League.

That sequence represents the longest such run in City's history, and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan said the team overcame a "huge test" in their quest for consecutive Premier League titles.

"Leeds started with a lot of intensity and made our lives difficult," Gundogan added. "Obviously the first goal helped us a lot, but still in the first half they were more than in the game.

"After the second we were able to move the ball better, quicker, and create more chances. At the end of the day, it was a very good result for us."

City and Liverpool have set a relentless pace in another absorbing race between the duo, and Gundogan echoed his manager's sentiments in claiming the players were enjoying the pressure that competition brings.

"It's only as tough as you make it, we are all competitors, and we need to be able to manage these kinds of situations," he said. "It's normal that sometimes they will play first and sometimes we're going to play first.

"But the pressure is always on, and the responsibility is always there to win all the games. It looks like both teams might not struggle until the end, that's what we want obviously, and every game is a final."

Manchester City kept the outcome of the Premier League title race in their hands with a 4-0 win over Leeds United.

After Liverpool claimed a 1-0 victory at Newcastle United earlier on Saturday, City needed a win to regain a one-point advantage in their hard-fought battle with the Reds.

City faced few problems in grinding out the result they needed, with Rodri and Nathan Ake converting from set-pieces in either half before Gabriel Jesus and Fernandinho wrapped up the points late on.

Pep Guardiola's men simply need to win each of their four remaining games to wrap up the Premier League title, while Leeds remain in danger of relegation after slipping to 17th.

The visitors rested several players, including Kevin De Bruyne, ahead of Wednesday's trip to Real Madrid, and could have fallen behind early on when Rodrigo Moreno delayed his pass after capitalising on Joao Cancelo's slip.

But City took the lead after 13 minutes when Rodri met Phil Foden's left-wing free-kick with a glancing header, diverting the ball into the top-right corner.

Junior Firpo fired over when presented with the hosts' best opening in a quiet first half, and Jesse Marsch's men lost Stuart Dallas to a serious-looking injury shortly before the break.

Jack Grealish bent a shot narrowly wide of the top-right corner after Raheem Sterling danced through the home defence after 52 minutes, but Ake doubled their lead soon after, prodding home after Ruben Dias met a right-wing corner. 

City made the points safe when Jesus latched onto Foden's pass to fire past Illan Meslier after 78 minutes, before Fernandinho drilled a 25-yard strike into the bottom-left corner as the visitors cruised.

New Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has Benfica striker Darwin Nunez at the top of his shopping list in the upcoming transfer window.

The Uruguayan striker is in the midst of a breakout season in both Portugal and Europe, scoring 25 goals in 24 Primeira Liga fixtures, and a Benfica-record six Champions League goals in 10 appearances.

Darwin finished his Champions League campaign by scoring a goal in three consecutive games, including in back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool.

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS MAKE DARWIN NUMBER-ONE TARGET

Fichajes and Calcio In Pillole reporter Ekrem Konur claims United have made Darwin their priority target, stating he is "at the top of Erik ten Hag's short transfer list" and they are "considering paying" his release clause.

ESPN has also said United are "leading the chase" for the striker though they face competition from Arsenal, and reported along with The Sun that the 22-year-old's release clause is in the region of €150million.

As well as Darwin, Napoli's Victor Osimhen and Juventus' Paulo Dybala, who will be a free agent, are also serious targets management would like to bring to Old Trafford.

ROUND-UP

– Marca is reporting that Barcelona will turn to Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku as their "plan C" after failing to land Erling Haaland or Robert Lewandowski.

– According to The Express, Arsenal are willing to listen to offers of £25m for Nicolas Pepe after signing him for a club-record £72m in 2019. West Ham are said to be one of the Premier League teams interested.

– Fabrizio Romano reports that Manchester City are focused on extending Phil Foden's contract until 2027.

– Leeds United midfielder and England international Kalvin Phillips will change his agent as he looks to secure a move away from the club, with the Manchester Evening News reporting that United will be in the box seat.

– Todofichajes is claiming that Arsenal have agreed a £50m deal for City striker Gabriel Jesus.

As the 2021-22 Premier League season enters its final weeks, plenty remains for the taking – not least the thrilling title race between Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City.

Both teams are in imperious form and, while City lead the way by a single point heading into the weekend, one slip might be all it takes.

Chelsea seem relatively secure in third place, but behind them the battle for the final Champions League spot is raging on. Just two points separate north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham, who meet in a potentially decisive derby in mid-May. 

Manchester United have played two games more than those two sides and look like they will have to settle for sixth, assuming they can fend off West Ham.

At the bottom, Everton are in real danger of losing their Premier League status for the first time but will hold out hope in their dogfight against Burnley and Leeds United, though Watford and Norwich City appear destined for the drop.

But just how will it all unfold? Well, using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try and forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The rest of the matches are then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

PEP PIPS KLOPP TO THE POST... AGAIN

City won the Premier League title by a margin of just one point in the 2018-19 campaign. The gap has been much wider over the past two seasons, with Liverpool triumphing in 2020 and City winning last year.

But just like in 2019, the model suggests Liverpool will fall just short once again, with City predicted to stay on top. It gives Pep Guardiola's team a 66 per cent chance of winning their fourth title in five seasons, with the Reds given a 34 per cent chance.

Neither side are predicted to drop out of the top two – that seems a safe bet. Liverpool have a tough trip to in-form Newcastle United on Saturday, while City face Leeds United.

Newcastle will then have the chance to have another say in the title race when they visit City on May 8, with trips to Wolves and West Ham coming for the leaders before they round off their domestic season against Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa. 

Liverpool, who also face Villa along with Spurs, Southampton and Wolves, will be wanting a favour from their club great on the last day of the season if they are to prove the model wrong.

GUNNERS CLINCH CHAMPIONS LEAGUE PLACE

Chelsea, according to the model, have a 98.7 chance of staying in third place, and are certain to be playing in UEFA's elite competition next season.

Below them, it is predicted that Arsenal will just nip into the top four rather than Spurs. Mikel Arteta's team have a 75.2 per cent chance of qualifying for the Champions League, and just 24.8 of finishing in a Europa League place.

While Stats Perform AI only gives Arsenal a minuscule opportunity of taking third off Chelsea, they have a 73.9 per cent chance of securing fourth place and featuring in the Champions League for the first time since 2016-17.

It seems likely that much will be decided on May 12, when Spurs welcome Arsenal to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Antonio Conte's team are predicted to finish fifth (72.4 per cent), and only have a 24.7 per cent likelihood of clinching fourth.

United are forecast to finish sixth (65 per cent), albeit there is the possibility they could even end 2021-22 in seventh. That position, however, seems set to be filled by West Ham, who have to win against Eintracht Frankfurt next week to keep their hopes of a Europa League triumph alive – success in that competition would take them into the Champions League, regardless of where they finish domestically.

TOFFEES CHAMPIONSHIP-BOUND

It has been a dismal season for Everton, who head into Sunday's clash with Frank Lampard's former club Chelsea sitting in the bottom three for the first time since 2019 (when, ironically, they beat a Chelsea side managed by Lampard).

Lampard has taken 10 points from his 12 games in charge, and they are now predicted to finish in 18th place. The model gives them a 29.8 per cent chance of escaping the drop and finishing 17th and just a 17.4 per cent likelihood of coming 16th. Their run-in includes three away games, and Everton have the worst away record in the competition – 12 of their 19 defeats coming on the road and they have taken just six points on their travels all season.

Burnley sit two points clear of Everton in 17th after two successive victories and are given a 39.4 per cent chance of staying put, although the likelihood of the Clarets' finishing 18th is not dissimilar (36.5 per cent).

Leeds have tough fixtures against City, Arsenal and Chelsea coming up before they host Brighton and Hove Albion and visit Brentford, though Stats Perform AI gives them only a 12.9 per cent chance of relegation.

Watford are heavily predicted to stay put in 19th too, with Norwich given a 67.4 per cent probability of finishing bottom – the model reckons they have a 0.1 per cent chance of avoiding the drop.

Jack Grealish has been left out of Manchester City's biggest matches in recent weeks purely due to tactical reasons, Pep Guardiola has explained.

Grealish, signed for a record-breaking £100million last off-season, has started just three of City's eight games so far in April.

The Premier League leaders bookend what has been a hectic month with a trip to Leeds United on Saturday, and may well start the match at Elland Road in second place, should Liverpool get a result against in-form Newcastle United.

Grealish featured from the off in last week's 5-1 rout of Watford, but did not play against Real Madrid in Tuesday's thrilling Champions League encounter as City won the first leg of their semi-final 4-3.

The 26-year-old also started against Burnley at the start of April and in the FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool, scoring City's first goal in a 3-2 defeat at Wembley. However, he was a substitute against the Reds in the 2-2 league draw on April 10, and only featured from the bench in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie with Atletico Madrid. He also did not appear against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Only Bruno Fernandes (77) created more chances from open play in the Premier League than Grealish (70) last season, with the England international managing to craft 42 goalscoring chances from open play for City across 22 top-flight appearances this term. 

That is still the third-best figure in City's squad, behind Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva (both 52), and Guardiola has insisted the playmaker's recent omissions were purely tactical and not down to a disappointment in Grealish's level of performance.

"He can play," Guardiola replied when asked in a news conference why Grealish had been left out of the biggest matches.

"Nothing changes. In that position, in important games Riyad [Mahrez] gives something unique, special and Phil [Foden] is so determined, his will and his impact on the game is huge as well. Just for that reason.

"Raheem [Sterling], everybody knows how important he is for me. Always have the feeling with Phil and Riyad that the goal is there, they have the sense to score the goal. 

"Sometimes you need more control, maybe Jack. Most of the time it is a tactical decision, not because I'm unsatisfied or that they're not playing good."

While Grealish could be in line to play against Leeds, Kyle Walker remains sidelined through injury, with Guardiola unsure if the full-back will return before the end of the season. John Stones will also be absent in West Yorkshire.

City did not beat Leeds in either match last season, drawing at Elland Road before losing to 10 men at the Etihad Stadium. Indeed, the Whites have lost just two of their last nine home league games against City (W6 D1), doing so in consecutive meetings in December 1995 (0-1) and September 2000 (1-2).

But City did win the reverse fixture 7-0 this season and are looking to complete their first league double over Leeds since 1981-82. Guardiola, though, knows Jesse Marsch's team, who are five points clear of the relegation zone after a five-game unbeaten run that has included three victories, stand in the way of what could be a crucial win.

"Last season we dropped five points against Marcelo [Bielsa]," he said. "Jesse Marsch did an incredible job in Salzburg, [RB] Leipzig wasn't the perfect place maybe, but many teams in England play that way, I have a lot of respect.

"This is the most important game that we have for the position we will be in between the Champions League games, after Madrid we have just four games all in the league. We accept the challenge, know exactly what we have to do and we will try to do it."

Pep Guardiola sees no reason why Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool contract extension should play a factor in whether to prolong his own stay at rivals Manchester City.

Klopp confirmed on Thursday he had signed fresh terms with the Reds to keep him at Anfield until at least 2026, with his previous deal set to have expired in 2024.

Guardiola will soon enter the final 12 months of his own contract, though most neutrals will hope he stays on to continue a fascinating rivalry that has been established between City and Liverpool over the past few seasons.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, though, said his immediate focus is on Saturday's Premier League clash with Leeds United, a match in which they could find themselves starting two points behind title rivals Liverpool, who play Newcastle United in the early kick-off.

"I don't know, Leeds is the focus. I congratulate Jurgen and Liverpool, I think it's really good for the Premier League, and I wish him all the best in the future," Guardiola said.

"My future is Leeds, our future is Leeds and the end of the season. Why should it make an impact [on my future]? 

"Everyone has their situation. If we decide to stay longer it won't be because Jurgen extended his contract or not, I don't see this relation, honestly.

"All my career as a manager always I've had rivals. I think it's really good for the Premier League that he decided to extend the contract, because he and the club decided to stick together, there's nothing to add."

Guardiola added no further talks are in the pipeline with City, though he acknowledged the club is the ideal place for him to work at this stage of his career.

He added: "No, no. I'm so concerned about the last three weeks, one month of the season. One year is a long time, six seasons together, many years. I am enjoying this part of the season, after we have time. 

"I have an incredible relationship with the club. You know my opinion, I'm incredibly happy, I could not be in a better place in my life right now to work than here, I could not visualise a better place, but it's not just about me. We are going to take the decision."

While Guardiola was complimentary of Klopp's work at Liverpool, he appeared a little more terse when asked about the fact Mohamed Salah had won the Football Writers' Association Men's Footballer of the Year for 2021-2022, an award his own star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne would have held legitimate claims to win.

"Congratulations to Salah," he said, before adding: "I was not in contention, I played good! 

"[De Bruyne] won already. Congratulations to Salah. Jurgen said that they have the best goalkeeper, the best second keeper, in the world, the best central defender, the best holding midfielder, the best striker. 

"So, it's normal they [Liverpool] win all the awards."

Ousmane Dembele's signing for Barcelona had become emblematic of Josep Maria Bartomeu's turbulent presidency.

An untenably ballooning wage bill saw the club face bankruptcy in the aftermath of Covid-19 restrictions and in a need to cut wages, the French attacker has become an expendable asset.

However, Dembele is reportedly determined to make keeping him at Barcelona more feasible, despite being set to leave at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – DEMBELE OPEN TO BARCELONA WAGE CUT

With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Ousmane Dembele is prepared to reduce his salary in order to sign a new contract at Barcelona, Sport reports.

Dembele's agent Moussa Sissoko and the Barcelona board reportedly met and the assertion was made that the France international was willing to take a pay cut to continue playing under Xavi.

Return on investment has always lingered over the 24-year-old attacker following his €140million transfer from Borussia Dortmund in 2017. 

Dembele has provided one goal in all competitions this season for the Blaugrana, but leads the team in assists with 11 from 28 appearances.

 

ROUND-UP

- Roma are looking to the Premier League to bolster their squad for next season, with Granit Xhaka, Douglas Luiz and Nemanja Matic all being considered, Calciomercato reports.

- Barcelona are also keen to sign Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski but no opening bid has been made yet, per Fabrizio Romano.

- The Athletic is reporting Manchester United are considering a £50m move for Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips.

- Wayne Rooney has become to top candidate to replace the dismissed  Sean Dyche at Burnley on a permanent basis, according to the Sun.

After excelling in the Champions League for Benfica, Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez has attracted interest from Newcastle United.

Darwin, who turns 23 in June, has scored 24 goals in 24 Primeira Liga games, as well as six goals in 10 Champions League appearances. No Benfica player has ever scored more goals in a single Champions League campaign.

While some of the world's biggest clubs – including Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United – are hoping to sign the breakout star, they will have to contend with an aggressive offer to bring him to St James' Park.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE MAKE £50M BID FOR DARWIN

Newcastle have been linked with all kinds of big-name signings for the upcoming transfer window, but Footmercato is reporting that they have made a £50million bid for Darwin in an effort to fend off the challenge of rival clubs.

At such a young age, he could be the kind of marquee signing the new Newcastle board can build their future side around as they also chase more experienced players, such as Christian Eriksen from Brentford on a free transfer.

The Footmercato report also mentions that if Darwin is to leave, Benfica plan to replace him with Petar Musa, who is on loan at Boavista from Slavia Prague.

 

ROUND-UP

– 90min is reporting Lazio coach Maurizio Sarri is very interested in reuniting with Jorginho, as he is unlikely to be offered a new contract at Chelsea beyond 2023.

– Erik ten Hag would like to bring Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni to Manchester United when he takes over as manager, according to ESPN.

Arsenal, Leeds United and Newcastle are set to compete for the signature of Hoffenheim's Florian Grillitsch when his contract expires after this season, per the Daily Mail.

– The Sun is reporting Kalvin Phillips will reject Manchester United's advances and sign a new deal with Leeds.

Burnley are targeting Sam Allardyce to take over as manager after the sacking of Sean Dyche, per The Sun.

After a number of false dawns since Alex Ferguson's retirement from coaching, Manchester United are reportedly looking to make a splash with Erik ten Hag.

West Ham's Declan Rice has emerged as one of Europe's premier defensive midfielders and is seen as a key piece in a potential rebuild.

According to reports, this off-season might be the time West Ham and Rice's representatives look to cash in.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TO MAKE RECORD PLAY FOR RICE

Manchester United are ready to break their transfer record and make him a marquee signing under new boss Erik ten Hag, according to 90Min.

It is understood West Ham made an offer to extend Rice's contract last year, but ultimately, the Hammers would be unable to compete with likely wage offers elsewhere.

For Rice, United appear willing to break their transfer record set in 2016 for Paul Pogba, a midfielder who has never really found a set position or provided a return on sizeable investment.

They would face stiff competition from Manchester City and Chelsea, who are also keen on the 23-year-old England international.

 

ROUND-UP

Manchester United are preparing a deal to sign Leeds United and England midfielder Kalvin Phillips, per the Manchester Evening News.

Brazil are willing to offer Manchester City manager Josep Guardiola a substantial salary to follow on from Tite as the country's national team manager, according to Marca.

Everton boss Frank Lampard has the confidence of club owner Farhad Moshiri and the board, despite the Toffees' relegation battle, the Daily Mail reports.

– The Athletic has reported RB Leipzig and Croatia defender Josko Gvardiol has emerged as a target for Tottenham .

Manchester City remain the likely Premier League champions and are on course to pip weekend opponents Liverpool to the title as the race reaches its home straight.

The top two each have eight games remaining and the first comes on Sunday when they go head-to-head at the Etihad Stadium in what many are billing a title decider.

That is hyperbole of course, but for City it is the last time they will face a team currently in the top five, so by that logical reasoning it is the game where they are most likely to slip up.

Arsenal are the team likeliest to snatch fourth place and a Champions League ticket for next season, while at the foot of the table it is almost too close to call between Everton and Burnley for the third relegation place, with Leeds United now standing just a 12.2 per cent chance of sliding down to the Championship.

Stats Perform AI analysis has given us a strong sense of how the standings might look come the season's final whistle on Sunday, May 22, but the figures also show us there remains plenty to play for.

PEP TO WIN THE TITLE BATTLE AGAIN?

Pep Guardiola's City head into the crucial contest with a one-point advantage over a Liverpool side who have been closing the gap since trailing by 14 points on January 15, albeit with Jurgen Klopp's Reds having played two fewer games at that time.

It is clear this remains a title race that could yet go either way, but City stand a 65.6 per cent chance of carrying off the trophy for a second season in a row, with Liverpool, their lone rivals for silverware, having a 34.4 per cent opportunity.

Diego Simeone described City as "an extraordinary rival" after Atletico Madrid's 1-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, and the second leg of that Champions League tie follows three days after the Liverpool game.

City's Premier League opponents for the remainder of the campaign will then be, in order: Brighton (home), Watford (home), Leeds United (away), Newcastle United (home), West Ham (away) and Aston Villa (home), with a trip to Wolves also to be arranged for a date to be confirmed.

Liverpool, also with Champions League commitments and an FA Cup semi-final against City to come, have what looks a more daunting Premier League run-in after this weekend, beginning with two huge Anfield games: Manchester United (home), Everton (home), Newcastle (away), Tottenham (home), Aston Villa (away), Southampton (away), Wolves (home).

They are 64.7 per cent likely to finish as runners-up, the Stats Perform prediction shows, and 0.9 per cent likely to be caught by Chelsea for second place. City are 0.3 per cent likely to throw it away and finish third. Now that would be some story.

Of all teams in the top flight, third-placed Chelsea are the most likely to finish in their current position. That is calculated as a 94.5 per cent probability.

GO FOURTH AND PROSPER?

The last Champions League qualifying berth is the prize that looks to be a slug-off between north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal, who will meet in a May 12 derby.

Both sit on 54 points heading into this weekend, with Tottenham fourth for now but Arsenal having played one fewer game.

Momentum could change considerably, but for now Arsenal are predicted to have a 59.1 per cent chance of taking fourth spot, with Tottenham given a 31.9 per cent shot (50.8 per cent to be fifth).

Who else might take fourth and secure the riches that come with Champions League involvement? Well, Chelsea are reckoned to have a 4.0 per cent prospect of slipping there (and a 0.3 per cent chance of nose-diving to fifth), while Manchester United are three points adrift of Spurs and the Gunners, sitting in seventh ahead of a weekend trip to struggling Everton, and are given a 4.2 per cent hope of finishing so high.

That would be a massive boost to United's next boss, but it remains a slim hope. In fact, United's most likely finishing position, according to the predictor, is sixth place (46.1 per cent).

Former Red Devils boss David Moyes has probably seen his West Ham side's hopes of a top-four finish slip away. The Hammers are also just three points behind Tottenham and Arsenal but have played more games than both and are given a trifling 0.7 per cent chance of coming home fourth.

GOING DOWN WITH THE NORWICH?

The Canaries of Norwich are so far down the relegation pit of despair they can surely smell Championship gas. They stand a 1.3 per chance of survival, and are 81.3 per cent likely to finish rock bottom.

Second-bottom Watford are given an 18 per cent chance of staying up by the predictor, and home games against Leeds, Brentford, Burnley, Everton and Leicester City mean that door to survival should be considered just slightly ajar.

Leeds could yet plummet, but if Norwich and Watford are the likeliest two sides to exit the Premier League, then Burnley and Everton are the two most obviously jostling to avoid joining them.

For now, after a bruising 3-2 defeat at Burnley on Wednesday, Everton are rated 49.4 per cent shots to finish inside the bottom three, compared to 53.2 per cent for Sean Dyche's Clarets.

It is knife-edge stuff, hardly the end of the table where Frank Lampard is at his most comfortable.

Come the final day, Lampard's Everton might need something from a trip to Arsenal, who in turn might need points in that fourth-place battle.

HOW THE NUMBERS ARE WORKED OUT

Stats Perform's League Prediction model simulates the outcomes of the remaining matches to estimate the likelihood of teams finishing in each position.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) from the latest available betting market odds data or, when not available, by using an internal win probability model that is powered by historical team strengths.

Based on these probabilities, the results of the remaining matches can be simulated. The outcome of the season is simulated 10,000 separate times in order to estimate the likelihood of each team finishing in each league position.

Xavi's rebuild at Barcelona has had to take place with tighter purse strings than you might usually expect.

The club that reportedly spent a combined €275million on Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho in the same season are now on the hunt for a new winger, and Raphinha seemingly fits the criteria.

Whether they can convince Leeds to sell for a price that suits all parties will apparently be made clear in the next few weeks.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYE RAPHINHA

Talks have commenced for Raphinha's potential move from Leeds United to Barcelona, per Nicolo Schira.

Raphinha's agent, former Barcelona and Chelsea star Deco, has been in contact with the Catalan giants since early March, but the Brazilian winger's €70m release clause has been a roadblock for the cash-strapped club.

The Blaugrana remain the preferred destination for the 25-year-old, who has tallied nine goals and three assists in 28 appearances for embattled Leeds.

It is reported Barcelona will try to come up with an acceptable package for the Premier League club in the coming weeks.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Manchester Evening News is reporting Paris Saint-Germain have made an offer to Manchester United's Paul Pogba, as he enters the final months of his contract.

– Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane would consider an offer from Manchester United before weighing up his long-term future, according to The Athletic.

Manchester City are hopeful of agreeing a new contract with 21-year-old England midfielder Phil Foden, per 90min.

– Despite interest from Liverpool and Manchester United, Ronald Araujo's agent has disclosed to ESPN that a new long-term deal with Barcelona is imminent.

Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch is keen to continue developing the "fantastic" Raphinha while he is still with the club as reports circulate of a move to Barcelona.

The Brazil winger was linked with a big-money move to West Ham in January but has remained at Elland Road, with Leeds battling to avoid relegation from the Premier League.

Raphinha, who left Rennes for Leeds in October 2020, has caught the eye of some of Europe's elite clubs, with Barca seemingly favourites to secure his signature.

Barca president Joan Laporta has confirmed an interest in the 25-year-old, having received positive reports from Raphinha's agent and ex-Blaugrana midfielder Deco.

While Marsch acknowledged his star player is in demand, the American expressed his desire to make the most of having Raphinha for as long as he stays at Leeds.

"He is a massive talent and my challenge, despite all of the talk outside, is to have a relationship where we can focus on his development in helping the team while he is here," he told reporters on Thursday.

"I haven't had a word with him about Deco or Barcelona. It [Barca’s interest] should be out there because he is fantastic.

"I just want him to become the player I know he can be. Everyone here wants to enjoy the football he can play and of course we want him to stay as long as possible. He's a fantastic player and very good person."

Raphinha has been Leeds' standout performer in the Premier League, laying on 56 chances this season along with his nine goals and three assists – all team-leading figures.

In the English top flight only James Ward-Prowse (57), Bruno Fernandes (76) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (77) have created more opportunities than Raphinha, who Marsch says he has not discussed his future with past the end of the season.

Marsch will be hoping Raphinha, who missed the win over Wolves due to COVID-19, can boost Leeds' survival hopes when his side host Southampton on Saturday.

Everton have endured a nightmarish season and currently find themselves in the Premier League's relegation scramble.

The Toffees are sitting only three points above the relegation zone, despite two games in hand on 18th-placed Watford.

Just as pertinent is their financial situation, which will reportedly force them into having to sell one of their most valuable assets.

TOP STORY – EVERTON TO CHOOSE BETWEEN RICHARLISON AND CALVERT-LEWIN

The Sun is reporting Richarlison or Dominic Calvert-Lewin will have to leave Everton in order for the club to balance their books.

Their latest figures revealed a £121million loss in the last financial year, and one of the two strikers will now have to be sold.

Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin are Everton's two highest goal scorers still at the club since the latter arrived in 2016. The Brazilian has scored 47 in 142 appearances in all competitions, while the former Sheffield United man has tallied 55 in 180 games.

Richarlison is a reported target for Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, with Arsenal apparently keeping a close eye on Calvert-Lewin's situation.

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– England midfielder Kalvin Phillips has told Leeds United he wants to sign a new contract, potentially warding off interest from the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle, per The Mirror.

– According to ESPN, Anthony Martial could be used to create a package deal from Manchester United for Tottenham's Harry Kane .

– Le Parisien report N'Golo Kante turned down an offer to leave Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in January.

Milan have cooled on Real Madrid's Marco Asensio due to the 26-year-old's wage demands, as reported by Tuttosport.

Despite inking a new sponsorship deal with Spotify, improving on Barcelona's rejuvenation under Xavi will not force the club to spend unsustainably.

Xavi's side have made positive strides, finding form and re-establishing the club's identity, creating scope for Barcelona to become a destination for players.

The front three seems likely to transform under Xavi coming into next season, with the respective statuses of Memphis Depay, Ousmane Dembele, Adama Traore and Antoine Griezmann uncertain. However, the question of cost lingers.

TOP STORY – BARCELONA RENEW RAPHINHA OFFER

Barcelona's interest in Raphinha is being translated into offers for the Brazilian winger, but Sport reports the Premier League do not at present have a financial need to sell.

According to the Barcelona sports daily, Leeds turned down an initial offer of €35million (£30m), prompting the Blaugrana to increase to €40million (£34m) plus €10m (£8m) in options.

If Leeds suffer relegation, however, the release clause for the 25-year-old would be reduced to €25m (£21m).

It is also reported Barca would not necessarily be in a hurry, with Leeds currently 16th in the Premier League, while they could lean on Raphinha's agent and former Champions League winner, Deco.

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– Paul Pogba will need to take a significant pay cut if he wants to join Juventus from Manchester United, per Calciomercato.

Real Madrid have identified Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham , despite his links with a move to Liverpool, according to reports in Bild.

– The Times have reported Brentford want to extend the six-month deal for 30-year-old Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen.

– If Erik ten Hag takes over as Manchester United manager, he is keen on signing Brazilian winger Antony from Ajax, per The Telegraph.

Barcelona have already secured the signings of two free agents, Joan Laporta says, and Leeds United winger Raphinha could be their next recruit.

Rejuvenated under Xavi, Barca are now setting in motion their plans for the transfer window at the end of the season.

In an interview with RAC1, president Laporta suggested the Blaugrana would struggle to afford Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe and ruled out a return for Lionel Messi.

But he did have positive news for Barca fans, too, revealing: "We have closed two players who end their contracts this season."

It is widely thought Laporta's comments relate to Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen – unable to renew terms at Stamford Bridge due to government sanctions – and Milan midfielder Franck Kessie.

Meanwhile, Brazil international Raphinha would demand a fee, but Laporta confirmed his interest in a player who is represented by ex-Barca man Deco.

"We have had good reports," Laporta said.

"Deco has his work and informs us of details so that we do not commit errors. In some cases, he has helped us a lot."

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