Jurgen Klopp out, Steven Gerrard in?

Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year wait for league glory last season, but the German manager could be set for a return to his homeland.

His exit could see Gerrard return to Merseyside.

 

TOP STORY – GERRARD TO REPLACE KLOPP IN LIVERPOOL RETURN

Steven Gerrard may soon return to Anfield but as manager to replace Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, according to The Mirror.

Liverpool reportedly expect Klopp to take up an opportunity with Germany in the near future amid doubts over long-time head coach Joachim Low.

As a result, Liverpool legend Gerrard has been sounded out as he has Rangers on a cusp of a drought-breaking league title in Scotland.

Gerrard, who made more than 700 appearances for Liverpool, took control of Rangers in 2018.

 

ROUND-UP

- Erling Haaland seems to be on every club's wish list but the Mirror reports Manchester City have joined the queue for the Borussia Dortmund star. City manager Pep Guardiola and Haaland's agent Mina Raiola have a testy relationship but the Premier League leaders will press ahead with an alleged £100million (€115m) deal. English pair Chelsea and Manchester United are also reportedly interested along with Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea want to keep veteran defender Thiago Silva beyond the 2020-21 season. Chelsea signed Silva on a free transfer following his PSG exit.

- LaLiga giants Barcelona are in the market for a young defender and have set their sights on Inter's 21-year-old Alessandro Bastoni, according to Calciomercato.

Arsenal are in the hunt for Wigan Athletic sensation Kyle Joseph, with the teenager scoring five goals in 14 appearances. The Mirror claims the Gunners have joined Celtic and Rangers in their interest in the London-born Scotland youth international whose current contract expires in June.

Liverpool and rivals United are eyeing Leicester City's Harvey Barnes, reports the Mirror. The 23-year-old has established himself as a key player for the Foxes.

- Eric Bailly is in talks with United over a new long-term contract, claims The Sun. The 26-year-old defender, who has been plagued by injuries at Old Trafford, is out of contract in 2022. It comes amid United's reported interest in Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Ibrahima Konate of RB Leipzig and Brighton and Hove Albion star Ben White.

Lionel Messi is reportedly open to staying at Barcelona, but the LaLiga giants have work to do.

Messi, 33, stayed at Barca after sensationally requesting to leave ahead of this season.

But the six-time Ballon d'Or winner is out of contract at the end of the campaign, leading to more talk over his future.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI OPEN TO BARCELONA STAY

Messi is open to staying at Barcelona and is prioritising the sporting project over the economic offer, according to Marca.

The report says Barca strengthening their squad could convince Messi, who has been linked to Manchester City.

Signing City forward Sergio Aguero, Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland, Chelsea's N'Golo Kante or Liverpool's Roberto Firmino would help Barca's position in their bid to re-sign the superstar.

ROUND-UP

- With Real Madrid linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, such a deal could lead to questions over Eden Hazard. AS reports Mbappe joining Madrid could lead to an exit for Hazard, who has struggled with injuries since joining the LaLiga giants.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Raphael Varane's future. AS reports Madrid are prepared to listen to offers for Varane ahead of next season if they cannot agree to a new deal with the defender, who is out of contract in 2022. Manchester United have been linked with Varane, who is valued at £60.7million (€70m).

- Harry Kane has again starred for Tottenham this season. The Telegraph reports the forward, who is contracted until 2024, is set to stay at Spurs for at least another campaign.

- Amid suggestions Sevilla defender Jules Kounde is too expensive, Manchester United could look elsewhere. Eurosport reports Villarreal's Pau Torres may be a more realistic target due to his reported release clause of around £43m (€49.6m).

- Alexandre Lacazette seems set for an Arsenal exit. The Mirror reports Monaco are targeting the forward ahead of next season.

Jurgen Klopp insisted there was no need for a "massive rebuild" at Liverpool amid their struggles this season.

The reigning champions are in a fight for Champions League qualification after losing their past four Premier League games ahead of visiting Sheffield United on Sunday.

Liverpool have endured a horrid run with injuries this season, with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez missing most of the campaign, while several others have also been sidelined and captain Jordan Henderson has undergone surgery on a groin injury.

But Liverpool manager Klopp sees no need for drastic changes at Anfield.

"I don't think it is time for a massive rebuild like how I understand it," the German said.

"The squad of this year didn't have the chance to play together one time really. I think it would make sense to have a look at that [problem] but on top of that, of course little readjustments will happen.

"Reacting on the situation but planning at the same time for the future and all these kinds of things. I am not sure we can do that in the summer but that is what we will try."

Liverpool sit sixth in the Premier League table, five points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham.

While he accepted results have been below-par, Klopp believes his side's performances are improving.

"It is all about results. The table doesn't lie. Never. That is completely fine. We know that performance-wise we are not that far away, but results-wise we are," he said.

"That is what we have to change and for all the different reasons that it was a difficult season so far for us.

"We try with all we have to sort it and while you try and sort one problem another problem occurs. That is in a season when it is not going perfect, obviously."

Liverpool won 1-0 at Bramall Lane last season, with Sheffield United last losing consecutive home top-flight meetings with the Reds in September 1921.

Jurgen Klopp remains hopeful Jordan Henderson will be back in action for Liverpool before the end of the season after undergoing groin surgery.

The Liverpool captain was injured during the first half of the Merseyside derby defeat to Everton last Saturday. It is unclear when exactly he will return, though the club has confirmed Henderson will not feature prior to the international break in March.

Klopp was not willing to be more specific over a comeback date for the midfielder when he spoke at a news conference ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

However, the Reds boss was clear that, despite not being able to participate on a daily basis, Henderson - like Liverpool's other long-term absentees - can still have an influence on the rest of the squad.

"They all have to be influential [while out], that is clear with so many players unavailable at the moment. Most of them are leaders in this group, here doing their rehab," Klopp said.

"Hendo is not here yet but Virgil [van Dijk], Millie [James Milner] and Joel [Matip] all have to be influential here. That's what they will be. When Hendo is back, he will have to play this role while doing his rehab.

"The best-case scenario? I don't know, to be honest. It's not a quick one, but of course we all hope there is still a possibility for him to play a few games this season, but we will see."

Henderson will miss Premier League games with Chelsea, Fulham and Wolves next month, as well as the second leg of the last-16 Champions League tie against RB Leipzig. There are also three World Cup qualifiers for England that he must sit out.

The 30-year-old has started 20 times in the league this term, during which Liverpool have a 45 per cent win percentage and an average of 1.7 points per game.

Unsurprisingly, those figures drop when the skipper is missing. Klopp's side have won two of their five outings in the league when Henderson - so often used as a makeshift centre-back due to injuries in defence - has not played, averaging 1.4 points per match. They have also faced more shots, the average rising from 7.8 per game to 10.

There is some good news for Liverpool over the return of Diogo Jota, while Fabinho is also set to resume training ahead of Sunday's trip to Sheffield United.

Jota has not played in 2021 due to a knee injury but Klopp will not take any unnecessary risks with the forward, even with his side struggling to score goals.

"Diogo trained twice with the team and has looked very good, very good," Klopp said. "But he was long-term out and we have to see what we can do with that, though in training he looks really promising."

Asked later if Jota's return is a timely boost in the battle to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League, Klopp replied: "Of course it's positive, but it's not the only positive.

"It's very positive that Diogo's back after a long time, the others who are out for a long time we will not see any more on the training pitch until the end of the season.

"Yes, it's very positive, and the way he came back in training is very positive. We just have to make a decision about what makes sense for him, when it makes sense for him, these kind of things."

Liverpool travel to bottom club Sheffield United on Sunday on the back of four straight defeats in their title defence; they have not lost five in a row in the top flight since a slump spanning August and September in 1953.

Klopp confirmed no decision had been made on the availability of Alisson for this weekend following the death of the goalkeeper's father back in Brazil.

Liverpool securing a top-four finish in the Premier League would now be a surprise given their dramatic dip this season, according to former Reds midfielder Jamie Redknapp. 

Injury issues have badly hampered Liverpool's title defence, with captain Jordan Henderson the latest to go down. 

The England international is expected to be out until April after undergoing surgery on the groin injury sustained in the derby defeat to Everton. 

Liverpool are sixth in the Premier League table with 13 matches to go, with a realistic prospect of them dropping further if Everton and Aston Villa below them win their games in hand. 

They have lost six of their last nine Premier League games, as many as they had in their previous 100 in the competition. 

"Teams have found a way," Redknapp told Sky Sports' Pitch to Post Preview podcast. 

"When West Brom came to Anfield, they sat back and let Liverpool get crosses into the box and because they haven't got that focal point of a big striker - you end up crossing the ball for the sake of it. 

"Liverpool have struggled, especially when they go a goal behind, to find the answer. 

"It will come, of course it will come, but right now everything Liverpool do feels difficult, when you're in a team struggling for form, even the basics are not quite happening. 

"They might not finish top four. It wouldn't be a surprise - it's actually more of a surprise if they did finish top four in the form they're in. 

"I don't know what they're going to end up with as their centre-back pairing at the moment. Henderson [being out] is terrible news. They're not a team who can keep going through these partnerships.  

"There's nothing to be scared of about Liverpool right now. This isn't a short fix. Liverpool's results up until the end of the season are going to be up and down."

The return of influential defender Virgil van Dijk and fans coming back to Anfield were highlighted by Redknapp as factors that should ensure a return to form next season. 

But reflecting on their 2020-21 woes, he insisted injuries were not the only issue, with individuals also struggling. 

"One thing you can't deny is the levels have dropped," Redknapp added. 

"If you were to go through the team, the keeper has not been as good, Trent Alexander-Arnold, last year and the year before, his levels have been so high. 

"The best right-back in the world we were talking about, but he's not been the same player this year. 

"That can be through a number of reasons - is he thinking, 'I've cracked it? All I have to do is turn up and play', and maybe not do the basics of what made him one of the best right-backs. 

"I have seen a drop off and if he's honest he'll look in the mirror and say I've not been as good this year. 

"When you get a bit of criticism, what you've got to do is look at yourself and think can I do better? And there are a number of players who can do better, make no mistake.  

"Individuals have to do better. They'll know that. They have to work harder." 

Liverpool are away to bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United on Sunday.  

The Blades have lost 20 of their 25 Premier League games this season (W3 D2) - the fewest amount of games a team has taken to reach 20 defeats in a single campaign in English top-flight history. 

Liverpool will hope Mohamed Salah can continue his impressive form on the road. The Egypt international has scored 16 goals in his last 17 away games in all competitions, as many as he had netted in his previous 51 away games for the Reds. 

Liverpool have announced Jordan Henderson has undergone surgery on the groin injury he sustained against Everton.

Playing at centre-back due to key absences in defence, the Liverpool captain was forced to come off in the 30th minute of his side's 2-0 defeat in the Merseyside derby at Anfield last Saturday.

Henderson has appeared in 21 of the Reds' 25 league games this season, his solitary goal coming in the 7-0 rout of Crystal Palace in December. He has also made six appearances in the Champions League, the last of them in the 2-0 away victory over RB Leipzig in the round of 16.

A timetable for his return to action has not been revealed, though the club have confirmed the England international will be out until at least after the international break in March.

"Following further assessment with the club's medical team, Henderson has successfully had a corrective procedure carried out on the adductor injury," a statement from the club read.

"He will begin a rehabilitation programme immediately.

"No specific timescale is being placed upon his return; however, the 30-year-old is ruled out initially until after the March international break.

"Henderson's recovery will be closely monitored by the club's medical department and his progression during his rehab work will determine when he is able to resume full training."

The absence of his skipper is a further blow to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, particularly considering the 30-year-old has so often filled in at centre-back this term due to the long-term absences of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.

Henderson will miss Sunday's trip to Sheffield United, as well as league fixtures against Chelsea, Fulham and Wolves in March.

He is also ruled out of the Champions League second leg against RB Leipzig, while England boss Gareth Southgate will have to do without the midfielder for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.

Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has been given the all-clear to chase Erling Haaland, while Liverpool are also eyeing a forward.

Borussia Dortmund star Haaland is wanted by numerous European giants, with Manchester City among those reportedly interested.

But Chelsea are also targeting the 20-year-old forward.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA GIVEN ALL-CLEAR TO CHASE HAALAND

Chelsea boss Tuchel has been given the green light to go after Dortmund star Haaland ahead of next season, according to Bild.

Haaland has scored 27 goals in 25 games for Dortmund this season.

Chelsea spent big ahead of 2020-21, but are seemingly eager to land Haaland to strengthen further.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are apparently eyeing a forward of their own. Diario Gol reports Jurgen Klopp wants Real Madrid forward Rodrygo.

- After starring for Burnley, Nick Pope is linked with a move. LancsLive reports the Premier League club want around £50million for the goalkeeper, who is said to be a target for Tottenham.

- Manchester United continue to be linked with West Ham midfielder Declan Rice. 90min reports United are willing to offer any of Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones to West Ham in their bid to land Rice.

- Staying at Manchester United and the Daily Express reports they may give up on Norwich City right-back Max Aarons due to a £35m asking price.

- With Napoli seventh in Serie A and out of the Europa League after being eliminated by Granada, the pressure is on head coach Gennaro Gattuso. But CalcioMercato reports Gattuso is safe for now despite his side's struggles.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson thanked his fans for their support following the tragic death of his "beloved" late father.

It was reported that Jose Agostinho Becker drowned on Wednesday while swimming close to his holiday home in Brazil.

The 57-year-old was reported missing and, following a search, his body was found.

Alisson wrote in a message on Twitter on Thursday: "I would like to thank everyone for the messages and tributes to my beloved father!

"Our family feels loved by everyone! May God bless each one's lives!"

The Brazil international has played 27 games in all competitions for Liverpool this season.

The Reds play bottom-of-the-table Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp's side are seeking to halt a four-match losing run in the Premier League that has seen the defending champions slip to sixth place.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson's father is reported to have drowned, with former club Internacional tweeting their condolences. 

According to widespread reports, the 57-year-old was swimming close to his holiday home in Brazil on Wednesday when he was reported missing. 

A search was launched and his body was found. 

Internacional, for whom Alisson's brother Muriel also used to play, tweeted: "It is with great sadness that we received the news of the death of Jose Agostinho Becker, father of our former goalkeepers Alisson and Muriel. 

"Clube do Povo wishes strength to family and friends in this moment of so much pain." 

Brazil international Becker moved to Anfield from Roma in 2018, after appearing for his country at the World Cup in Russia. 

The 28-year-old won the Champions League in his debut season and helped Jurgen Klopp's side to the Premier League title last term. 

 

Manchester City are reportedly considering a double swoop for Erling Haaland and Giovanni Reyna.

The Borussia Dortmund stars have been linked with moves, with Haaland in particular in high demand across Europe.

And high-flying City have their eyes on the duo.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY CONSIDER HAALAND, REYNA

Manchester City are considering moves for Dortmund stars Haaland and Reyna, according to 90min.

Haaland, 20, has scored 17 goals and provided three assists in 17 Bundesliga games this season.

Reyna, the 18-year-old American, has three goals and four assists in 21 league games.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United continue to be linked with centre-backs. But the Daily Mail reports the Premier League club are unwilling to meet Sevilla defender Jules Kounde's £68million (€79m) release clause, although they remain interested in the 22-year-old.

- With Liverpool enduring a difficult season, Jurgen Klopp's future has become a talking point. Bild reports Klopp could take over as Germany coach after the 2022 World Cup despite having a contract with Liverpool until 2024.

- Another club linked with a move for Haaland are Chelsea. Metro reports Tammy Abraham, who has scored 12 goals this season and is out of contract in 2023, is unwilling to discuss a new deal with the club amid the Haaland rumours.

- Jesse Lingard is attracting interest after an impressive start to his West Ham career. The Daily Express reports Leicester City are prepared to challenge West Ham if they try to sign Lingard, who is on loan from Manchester United, permanently ahead of next season.

- Still without a club, it remains to be seen where Maurizio Sarri ends up next. CalcioMercato reports Fiorentina again met with the former Juventus and Chelsea boss, but a potential agreement remains complex.

Diogo Jota is closing in on a return to action for Liverpool, while fellow long-term injury victim Virgil van Dijk is also stepping up his rehabilitation. 

Jota has not featured since suffering a knee injury in December. 

It curtailed a superb start to life at Anfield from the Portugal international, who racked up nine goals in 17 appearances after joining from Wolves last September. 

Jota completed a full session with Jurgen Klopp's first-team squad at the AXA Training Centre on Wednesday. 

Van Dijk's absence stretches back further after he suffered knee ligament damage due to a challenge from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford during last October's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. 

Lengthy and ongoing absences for Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have made centre-back a problem position for Klopp this term, and Jordan Henderson is waiting to find out the extent of an adductor injury having filled in manfully at the heart of defence. 

Unlike Jota, Van Dijk's return is not imminent, but he took part in an individual outdoor session away from his team-mates and appeared to be in good spirits. 

Liverpool won four and drew three of eight matches with Van Dijk in the side this season, including a remarkable 7-2 loss at Aston Villa. 

That 50 per cent win ratio has not been maintained in his absence, however, with 14 wins, seven draws and eight losses amounting to 48.3 per cent. 

Such form has put paid to hopes of a successful Premier League title defence but Klopp's men remain in contention in Europe after an impressive 2-0 last 16 first-leg win over RB Leipzig. 

Jota's return could be key to their hopes of reaching a third final in four seasons in the Champions League. 

He netted a hat-trick in the 5-0 group-stage thrashing of Atalanta and overall Liverpool won 58.8 per cent of games with Jota involved (W10 D5 L2). 

That falls to 40 per cent (W8 D5 L7) in the months since his injury, while the Reds' goals-per-game average is down from 2.2 to 1.7 without the 24-year-old, even though they average almost two more shots per game (15.9) set against when Jota does feature (14.1). 

While Sunday's trip to Sheffield United may come too soon for Jota, he could potentially feature in the home clash with top-four rivals Chelsea next Thursday.

What does the future hold for Andre Silva?

Silva has scored 18 Bundesliga goals this season, second only to Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.

He could find himself at Manchester United if Eintracht Frankfurt reportedly pursue a permanent deal for Luka Jovic.

 

TOP STORY – SILVA BOUND FOR MANCHESTER?

Manchester United could be offered the chance to sign Eintracht Frankfurt star Andre Silva if Edinson Cavani leaves Old Trafford, according to The Sun.

Silva is taking the Bundesliga by storm this season, but Eintracht are reportedly looking to raise funds to re-sign Luka Jovic – who is currently on loan in Frankfurt – permanently from Real Madrid.

Portugal international Silva could become available if veteran forward Cavani departs after the former Paris Saint-Germain star arrived on a one-year deal at the start of the season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Eurosport claims Chelsea are growing increasingly confident of winning the race to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland. The Norway international forward has been linked with Madrid, BarcelonaManchester City, Liverpool and United, as well as Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

Everton have joined United and Bayern Munich in trying to sign Norwich City full-back Max Aarons, reports Fabrizio Romano.

Tottenham will target Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope if PSG make a move for Hugo Lloris, says the Daily Mail.

- The Sun claims United veteran Juan Mata is being tracked by Serie A trio, Juventus, Inter and Roma.

Juventus, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain and now Manchester United are all reportedly chasing Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Days out from his 22nd birthday, Donnarumma has reportedly closed a deal with the Red Devils.

Is David de Gea's future in doubt?

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS SWOOP FOR RECORD-BREAKER

Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has agreed to a provisional deal with Manchester United, according to Todo Fichajes.

The report claims the deal would make the Italy star the best paid goalkeeper ever in world football.

United have had goalkeeping issues this season, with number one keeper David de Gea making a number of errors, while understudy Dean Henderson has made a handful of appearances.

Donnarumma, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Thursday, became the youngest player in Serie A history to reach 200 appearances in Sunday's 3-0 derby defeat to leaders Inter.

The 21-year-old's current deal with the Rossoneri expires at the end of this season and he has been linked with a host of clubs including Serie A champions Juventus, Champions League holders Bayern Munich and Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain.

There are similarities between Yokohama F.Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

Pressing is a vital feature of Postecoglou and Klopp's teams, with both managers enforcing a high-octane brand of attacking football.

Postecoglou and Klopp were also coming off drought-ending title triumphs as the coronavirus pandemic set in.

In 2019, F.Marinos boss Postecoglou guided the Japanese club to their first J.League title since 2004, while Klopp ended Liverpool's 30-year league drought in the Premier League last season.

But F.Marinos were unable to back it up, finishing ninth and 36 points adrift of champions Kawasaki Frontale last year. Klopp has already publicly conceded Liverpool's title defence is over – the Reds are sixth and 19 points behind runaway leaders Manchester City with 13 matches remaining in 2020-21.

The struggles are no coincidence amid demanding schedules and mounting injury lists as a result of COVID-19.

"Absolutely," Postecoglou told Stats Perform News when asked if he could relate to Klopp as he prepares for Friday's season opener against Kawasaki. "Not so much on the success bit, but you look at their football, it's high intensity and it's just not sustainable when you have such a congested fixture list.

"It's not just them. Any team around the world who play that play that high intensity, particularly with the pressing aspect not so much in possession, have found it very difficult. Liverpool are a classic example of that. Even like a club like Southampton, who pride themselves on that pressing aspect have struggled this season.

"The way you struggle, it's not just about the results, but you lose players to injuries, trying to maintain that kind of intensity. Rotation of players affects the fluency of how you play. What I found last year especially, you can kind of rotate the front half of your team and still sort of get some stability and consistency in results but if you have to change centre-backs and defenders regularly, you're going to struggle. That's definitely where we struggled last year. I don't think there was more than half-a-dozen games where we had the same centre-back pairing and goalkeeper in a row because of the injuries we had. We conceded a lot of goals.

"You look at Liverpool and most of their injury problems have been at the back. The converse of that, I look at Kawasaki who were so dominant in our league. They were really stable in terms of their back four and didn't really make changes. Had more depth in the front third where they could rotate players. Their game was based around keeping the ball, they weren’t as aggressive in the process. I think data wise they were the lowest-running team in the league. That was definitely the way to go last year. They had the quality to do it also, it's not an easy way to play.

"Even reading about Pep Guardiola's comments that his trying to get his team to run less through this period and they've been more effective. There's definitely a correlation there with the amount of running you need to do to play your style of game. The more it is, the more effective it is during this period."

Having changed the landscape of Australian football following back-to-back A-League titles and a record 36-match unbeaten streak at Brisbane Roar, plus a ground-breaking 2015 Asian Cup triumph with the Socceroos, Postecoglou took Japan and Asia by storm in 2019.

Cut from the same cloth as Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri – an emphasis on attacking football, with an unrelenting belief in their philosophy – Postecoglou's F.Marinos dazzled their way to J.League glory in 2019, ahead of FC Tokyo.

However, F.Marinos – who are part of the City Football Group – were unable to go back-to-back after, as Postecoglou says, the J.League "congested a season into really five months" while the club also juggled Asian Champions League commitments.

F.Marinos made a red-hot start to the season before the 2020 campaign was initially suspended due to coronavirus. Their title defence quickly turned pear-shaped.

While their attacking and possession numbers were around the same mark from 2019 to 2020 – only champions Kawasaki scored more goals – the same could not be said in terms of F.Marinos' defence.

F.Marinos conceded 59 goals last season, having only shipped 38 as they ended their 15-year wait for J.League silverware. Outside the box, 11 goals were conceded – up from three the year prior, while they allowed 47 shots from outside the box (21 in 2019).

There were also big differences in saves to shots ratio (69.1 per cent to 61.9 per cent), saves to shots ratio inside box (65.6 per cent to 55.0 per cent) and saves to shots ratio outside box (85.7 per cent to 76.6 per cent).

"We all had to deal with something that was unique," Postecoglou said when discussing the impact of COVID-19 on football. "None of us in our lifetime had gone through something like that or remotely like that. At the beginning, it was kind of surreal because you thought it would pass but then it kept being part of almost your existence where you have these restrictions placed upon you. To be fair here in Japan, they dealt with it pretty well. We didn't really have any major lockdown. Life, for the most part, was fairly normal. It definitely affected our football season.

"It took a heavy toll on players and staff, not just us but all clubs. We had the added challenge of being in the ACL [Asian Champions League], which affected our schedule even further. Playing without fans and empty stadiums, there was a surreal feeling about. The predominant feeling was lets just get through it the best way we can and make the most of it. We were still able to do what we love, work in a normal sense."

The absence of fans due to the coronavirus crisis also cannot be understated. While a limited amount of supporters returned for J.League matches at the backend of the 2020 season after fixtures were initially staged behind closed doors, Postecoglou said: "It actually affects football games. Supporters, they don't just provide the theatre and atmosphere, they have an effect on the players and coaches.

"Anyone who knows and has played in a stadium away from home with a passionate support, it can be intimidating, it can affect your game. If you're chasing the game, having the support in the stadium can lift you or make your opposition nervous. It definitely affects. In the beginning, it felt like every game was a friendly game – it had that sort of lack of cutting edge and little bit of intensity that you feel in real games. Eventually, I think players and coaches got used to it and games sort of turned back to a normal mode."

While 2020 did not go according to plan, Postecoglou is not dwelling on the past season.

"It was such an outlier of a season," the former Australia boss added. "Are those kind of circumstances ever going to happen again? If they ever do, there is certain things you'd probably do differently – the way we trained and played games. If you try to make a major shift from what happened last year, even though this year is looking like a very affected year for all of us, we kind of expect things to get back to some kind of normal in the near future.

"If you just react to what happened last year and change in any meaningful way what you do, I'm not entirely convinced that's a good sample to sort of say we can do things better purely focusing on what happened last year. In a footballing sense, if we are in that situation of playing so many games, we probably would've played differently and tried to play with less intensity because having so many games made it difficult for our players."

Postecoglou, like Manchester City manager Guardiola and ex-Chelsea and Juventus boss Sarri, pushes the boundaries. His approach never waivers and success follows the highly rated 55-year-old in his pursuit of excellence.

All eyes will be once again on his free-flowing F.Marinos team, with Postecoglou steadfast in his beliefs as he attempts to establish the historic Yokohama-based club – the longest-serving team in the Japanese top flight along with Kashima Antlers, having played in the J.League every year since its inception in 1992 – among Japan's elite.

"To me, it's just about 'can we play our football?' To be fair, we did even last year. It's a super competitive league. We had some fantastic success, but we aren't one of the big clubs yet. For us to be a big club, we need to have a certain level of performance year in, year out," said Postecoglou.

"Last year I thought our performances were quite good and stuck true to the football we wanted to play but the results weren't. We were inconsistent. This year is about maintaining our football and just getting more consistent with our results. If we are going to become one of the big clubs in Japan, we need to finish in those top spots regularly and win silverware. That's our target. It all begins and ends with me with our football. What I do know, when our football is good and we are stable, the results tend to follow."

Postecoglou heads into 2021 on the back of a contract extension following F.Marinos' run to the Champions League last 16, having topped their group.

F.Marinos finished 12th in his first season in 2018 – narrowly avoiding relegation but only being outscored by champions Kawasaki – while they also reached the J.League Cup final as Postecoglou turned the club on their head, leaving a pragmatic approach behind in favour of his entertaining football.

Three years on in his Japan journey, what does the future hold for the ambitious Australian – who has been tipped to make the move to Europe following a brief spell in Greece in 2008?

"Just keep doing what I have been – looking at challenging things and what excite me," he said. "I've been coaching for a while now and I've been pretty fortunate that the clubs I've worked at, we've had some sort of success. I like to think I've left my mark at those clubs. That's what I'm looking for future. Hopefully I have 10-15 years of coaching left in me, whatever the next project is and wherever it is, it's something that will excite me.

"For me, the passion lies in the football. That was the whole challenge of coming to Japan – could I adopt to a different culture, language, the difficulty of the competition, could my ideas work here? It's been hugely satisfying to see that it works, both on a personal basis but for the club because they enjoy the success. Whatever the next move is, it will be a similar scenario."

Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

Europe's elite are lining up to sign Erling Haaland, but who will he join?

Whoever it is, Haaland is set to command a mammoth contract.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND ASKING FOR LUCRATIVE DEAL

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland wants a contract in the region of £78million (€90m) as speculation intensifies over his future, according to the Daily Star.

Haaland is a player in demand following his exploits for Bundesliga side Dortmund, linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Juventus.

The report claims Haaland wants a five-year deal worth around £300,000 (€346,000) per week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Should Kylian Mbappe leave for Madrid, Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want to replace him with Tottenham star Harry Kane, claims the Mirror.

- Bild says Chelsea, Liverpool and United are interested in signing RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate. His centre-back partner Dayot Upamecano is set to join Bayern Munich at the end of the season, having been linked with the Premier League's elite.

Liverpool are preparing a £40m bid for Brighton and Hove Albion defender Ben White, reports Football Insider. Jurgen Klopp is desperate to bolster his injury-hit defence amid a difficult 2020-21 campaign.

- The Daily Mail says United are considering a move for Everton youngster Jarrad Branthwaite. The 18-year-old defender has impressed since joining the Toffees.

Leipzig lead the race to sign Ajax sensation Brian Brobbey, according to Diario AS. United, Milan and Bayern have also been linked.

Milan and Inter target Odilon Kossounou – who plays for Club Brugge - is also wanted by Premier League duo Arsenal and Wolves, claims The Sun.

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are eyeing Leicester City winger Timothy Castagne, who arrived from Atalanta at the start of the season.

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