The Premier League is back, with another fascinating season in store.

The 2021-22 title race went right to the wire, with Manchester City pipping Liverpool at the last, while the picture at the bottom was similarly dramatic as Leeds United survived.

The dominant top two have strengthened – including City pinching Leeds talisman Kalvin Phillips – and the league again looks so tough to call at both ends of the table.

Thankfully, Stats Perform AI is able to do that. It has predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and it has thrown up some interesting results, with some surprises at the summit.

LIVERPOOL SET TO LEAPFROG CITY

There was only a point between champions City and runners-up Liverpool last season, and Stats Perform AI expects the coming campaign to be similarly close.

But the Reds are the favourites for the title, with a 49.72 per cent chance of being crowned champions to City's 47.03 per cent.

Such is the gulf between the top two and the rest that Tottenham, backed as their nearest challengers, have only a 1.81 per shot at ending their 62-year wait under former Premier League winner Antonio Conte.

Chelsea, the club with whom Conte claimed the title, are given a 1.1 per cent hope.

Only seven teams are given any chance at all of celebrating come May – the fewest across all of Europe's top five leagues – with Manchester United (0.18 per cent) and Arsenal (0.13 per cent) joined by a resurgent Newcastle United (0.03 per cent).

Last champions in 1927, Newcastle are closing on a century-long drought, so even with their big spending, a one in 3,000 shot sounds about right.

UNITED AND ARSENAL FALL SHORT

Stats Perform AI does not only fancy Spurs and Chelsea as the top two's nearest contenders but also as their fellow Champions League qualifiers.

City (99.33 per cent) and Liverpool (99.28 per cent) are shoo-ins for top-four finishes, and Tottenham (70.07 per cent) and Chelsea (62.46 per cent) are also in strong positions to repeat last season's leading quartet.

That would mean Manchester United (25.56 per cent) and Arsenal (22.0 per cent) missing out once more, with Newcastle (5.03 per cent) again next.

However, despite West Ham being given no hope of a title tilt and longer odds of Champions League qualification, they are ranked to repeat their seventh-placed finish ahead of Newcastle.

Every team in the division at least has the opportunity to dream of a top-four finish, even if Bournemouth (0.07 per cent) might instead be better off preparing for the reality of a relegation scrap.

TALL ORDER FOR PROMOTED TRIO

Bournemouth are not the only promoted team set to find life tough. In fact, Stats Perform AI predicts all three will go straight back down.

This has only happened once previously in Premier League history – in 1997-98 – but the prediction model considers the trio clear favourites to be relegated.

Bournemouth (45.03 per cent) have scarcely improved their squad, while Nottingham Forest have done the opposite and invested heavily (44.47 per cent); neither approach is expected to succeed, nor are Fulham (43.83 per cent), promoted as champions.

It may not be as clear-cut as this suggests, however, with Southampton (34.23 per cent), Brentford (31.85) and Leeds (31.24) also forecast to endure testing seasons.

Everton (15.06 per cent), like Brentford and Leeds, have lost key players, but the data is backing the Toffees to improve on last year's dismal campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag insisted he is "not frustrated at all" by the club's transfer window, despite encountering difficulties in the market.

United have drafted in Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia ahead of the 2022-23 campaign but have not been able to land other targets – including Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

That has led to some reports that the club are concerned about the limited number of new arrivals ahead of the Premier League season, which United begin at Old Trafford against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

Ten Hag has denied that he feels that way, however, adding that he is "really happy" with the three additions the club has made.

"I'm not frustrated at all. First of all, we have a squad and we have already made progress. We are more pro-active than we were at the start," he told Sky Sports.

"Second is the players who we have now signed. We are really happy with them. You can already see that they can contribute to the squad.

"The last thing is that we know what we want. It's not about signing players; it's about signing the right players.

"So, we are really planning it carefully and we are sticking to that and working hard to get the right players in to construct a good squad and a squad that can win games."

Another problem for United in the close season has been Cristiano Ronaldo, who is widely reported to be seeking an exit from the club in order to continue playing Champions League football.

The Portugal international has managed just 45 minutes in pre-season, having missed the club's tour of Australia and the Far East, leaving him lacking fitness ahead of the campaign.

There have also been questions as to whether Ronaldo can fit into the style of play that Ten Hag will adopt at United this season but the Dutch coach does not have any concerns.

"It starts with him getting fit because he's only just started," he added.

"He is a fantastic football player, and he has proved it so many times, but you are always judged on what you are presenting now and how you are performing now.

"So, the team and Cristiano himself has to prove it."

Jesse Lingard has said the "love" he felt from Nottingham Forest is what persuaded him to join the newly-promoted side.

Forest are back in the Premier League for the first time since the 1998-99 season, and have signed a number of new players ahead of the upcoming campaign.

The capture of Lingard on a free transfer from Manchester United raised some eyebrows, with the England international reportedly turning down interest from abroad as well as from Everton and former loan club West Ham.

However, Lingard has explained that the efforts made by Forest's owners and manager Steve Cooper to sign him is what led to him making the decision to move to the City Ground.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Lingard said: "I could have gone abroad for a lot of money but I wanted to stay in the Premier League.

"[The club's owners] wanted to come to my house and bring me to London in quick succession to try to get the deal done.

"The manager and owners have been great with me – they've shown the love and intent to get me to the club.

"When I see that sort of love, of course I am going to say 'yes', but it had to be the right deal for me and my family.

"I can see the project they're building and it's going to look good this season. I feel a positive vibe around the camp."

United academy product Lingard struggled to make his mark at Old Trafford last season, starting just twice in the Premier League across the 2021-22 campaign.

The 29-year-old made 22 appearances in all competitions, scoring twice, and was repeatedly linked with a move back to West Ham, where he enjoyed a productive loan spell in the second half of the 2020-21 season, finding the net nine times in 16 top-flight appearances.

Lingard will be hoping to force his way back into Gareth Southgate's England squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar later this year, and said his main aim now is to have regular football, adding: "Personal goals – it's regular football, as that's how you get the best out of me.

"I've always wanted to be a leader. Over the years, I have become more vocal in the changing room. I am looking to continue that this season.

"I can speak to the younger lads who have never played in the Premier League. It's such a special club and for me to be a part of it. I'm raring to go and am so excited now."

Cristiano Ronaldo is "thinking about himself" with his desire to leave Manchester United, says former Red Devils team-mate Louis Saha.

The Portugal international has reportedly asked to leave Old Trafford for a club who are playing in the Champions League.

United cannot offer him football at that level after the team only finished sixth in last season's Premier League.

Ronaldo finished as top scorer in his first season back at United with 24 goals in all competitions, but he was absent from pre-season trips to Thailand and Australia and only returned to action in Sunday's 1-1 friendly draw with Rayo Vallecano.

Even that was not without controversy as Ronaldo, who started the game but made way for Amad Diallo at half-time, was pictured leaving Old Trafford while the second half was ongoing.

Saha played with Ronaldo during the 37-year-old's first spell at the club, and believes his former colleague needs to look at the wider picture.

"In some way, from Cristiano Ronaldo's point of view it's a bit unrealistic to ask now a club of this size to adapt to him and his dream," Saha told Sky Bet in quotes reported by several British newspapers.

"I'm not Cristiano but as someone who seems to be a supporter of Manchester United, I have felt like he hasn't shown completely enough of that, he is thinking about himself.

"I am not going to judge him because he is an immense player and I'm not in his position, but I would have loved him to stay because he's a terrific player.

"No one can judge his actions at this moment because it's his own career."

Despite Ronaldo's reported desire to leave, a number of European giants have distanced themselves from signing him, with clubs such as Chelsea and Bayern Munich seemingly not interested in signing the 37-year-old.

It remains to be seen whether he will still be a United player when they open their Premier League campaign against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, as they attempt to bounce back from a season where they achieved their lowest ever Premier League points total of 58.

Cristiano Ronaldo's decision to leave Old Trafford early during the friendly with Rayo Vallecano was "unacceptable", Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has said.

Ronaldo was top scorer for the Red Devils last season with 24 goals and started the game against the LaLiga side on Sunday, but he made way at half-time for 20-year-old Amad Diallo.

The Portugal international was then pictured leaving the stadium midway through the second half, in a game which United ultimately ended up drawing 1-1.

The former Real Madrid star has reportedly told United he wishes to leave in order to play Champions League football, something the Red Devils cannot offer after they only finished sixth in the Premier League last season.

However, a number of big European clubs have distanced themselves from signing Ronaldo, with the likes of Chelsea and Bayern Munich seemingly not interested in signing the 37-year-old.

He had been absent from United's pre-season until last week, and his early exit from Old Trafford only added fuel to the fire ahead of their Premier League opener against Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

It has been reported that Ronaldo was not the only player to leave the stadium before the weekend game ended.

Ten Hag was clearly not impressed by the premature departures, telling ViaPlay Sport Nederland: "It is unacceptable for everyone.

"I am telling them it's unacceptable. We are a team. A squad. Until the end we stay together."

United's points total of 58 in 2021-22 was their lowest in a Premier League season, but new boss Ten Hag will hope they are strengthened by the addition of defender Lisandro Martinez from his former club Ajax.

Creative midfielder Christian Eriksen and Netherlands international Tyrell Malacia have also been acquired, though the Frenkie de Jong saga with Barcelona continues to rumble on, with Chelsea now reportedly interested.

Erik ten Hag needs to "engage" with Cristiano Ronaldo and seek his input if he is to keep the Portuguese superstar happy at Manchester United, according to Ralf Rangnick's former assistant Chris Armas.

Ronaldo is reportedly eager to leave Old Trafford once again after United failed to qualify for the Champions League last season.

Several clubs have been linked with a move for Ronaldo, but Chelsea apparently decided to focus on other targets; Bayern Munich said such a transfer would not align with their club policies; and Atletico Madrid fans have actively protested the idea of the club signing a Real Madrid great.

For the time being, it would appear Ronaldo is set to remain at the club for the upcoming season, and he belatedly made his first pre-season appearance in the weekend's 1-1 friendly draw with Rayo Vallecano having missed United's tour of Thailand and Australia for "family reasons".

There are certainly those in the fanbase who are keen for Ronaldo to leave as well, despite him top scoring with 24 goals across all competitions last term, as there is a perception his presence will inhibit new manager Ten Hag developing a style of play that requires intense pressing.

But Armas, who assisted Rangnick at the club last season, is adamant Ronaldo has a lot to give.

"It's a hands-on approach, speaking with him, bringing him into the office, asking him questions, so he's part of the solutions and part of the success," he told Sky Sports when asked how to maximise Ronaldo's impacts.

"It was my job to work out how to get all that fire, experience and talent and challenge him as much as I could. I think the most important thing is to engage with Cristiano.

"He's got so much to give, his commitment to winning and scoring, each guy has their different type of leadership. He can be a leader in his way, and my goal like everyone in the squad was to say how can I get the most out of Cristiano.

"When you talk about, at the highest level, seeing a professional and what winning means to Ronaldo, what scoring goals mean to him - he's on the team, a big part of the team and he's a guy who produced."

The 2021-22 season ended up seeing a disappointing United plumb new depths, as they recorded their lowest Premier League points total (58) and failed to record a positive goal difference for the first time in over 30 years in the top flight.

Armas came in with Rangnick when United were attempting to steady the ship following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who paid the price for a rocky start to the campaign.

Rarely were United impressive on the pitch, and issues relating to their performances were exacerbated by leaks to the media, reports of player unrest and generally what Armas considered "noise".

For all the criticism aimed at Rangnick and his team, Armas believes United were effectively on track for a top-four finish until Champions League elimination by Atletico in March derailed their season.

"People who know me know what I care about and how much I value the team. What happens on the inside, as we say," he continued.

"When things are trying to penetrate and negativity is coming from the outside – to be honest, a lot of it was untrue. Who's to say what's true and not, but I can tell you a lot of it was untrue, and that it does create negativity. For those players, and myself included, you can't listen to the noise.

"We were trying to become a team, it's always a process but at Manchester United, at the time we arrived, all of us were trying to come together.

"I think Ralf did a really good job of stabilising things when we got there. You realise what a challenge it was, but after the Champions League exit, not getting the result at home, you can see the air got sucked out a little bit in what we were doing. Then it becomes difficult.

"Did we really move the needle, in the end? We wanted to finish in the top four and play a small part in that, it's disappointing in the end but overall it was an incredible experience for me."

United begin the new season at home to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

It is just over two months since the 2021-22 season ended in drama, with Manchester City clinching the title thanks to a stunning comeback win over Aston Villa.

That dashed Liverpool's hopes of an unprecedented quadruple, as Jurgen Klopp's side – who would go on to lose in the Champions League final six days later – settled for second.

The same top two could battle for the title again this season, and despite both Klopp and Pep Guardiola emphasising the strength of other sides in the league, some would say it is hard to see anybody being able to match their consistency, though Liverpool do have to learn without Sadio Mane, while City might need to get used to Erling Haaland.

Liverpool gained some small form of revenge by beating City 3-1 in the Community Shield on Saturday, with Haaland struggling, so it's 1-0 in the rivalry stakes in favour of Klopp heading into the campaign, though the Reds manager knows that does not mean much.

There will be stiff competition for places in the top four and, of course, the Champions League.

Chelsea have brought in Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, but Thomas Tuchel and new owner Todd Boehly want more star signings, while Arsenal and their north London rivals Tottenham have been busy bolstering their squads.

Erik ten Hag is in place at Manchester United, but uncertainty surrounds the future of Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Red Devils have so far been frustrated in their attempts to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona.

Here, three Stats Perform writers share their thoughts on who will feature in the Premier League's top four come the end of the campaign.

Patric Ridge 

1. Manchester City

City were not at their best in the Community Shield, though Guardiola was keen to stress that his side have only been back together for three weeks, and they did seem rather undercooked. Haaland's competitive debut was one to forget as, as well as being outshone by Liverpool new boy Darwin Nunez, he hit the bar from six yards out. It might take time, but Haaland – who will have a timely break during the World Cup as Norway did not qualify – is too good not to thrive in this City team, even one that has sold three first-team regulars. They had just too much for Liverpool last season, and with Mane gone, expect the same outcome this term.

2. Liverpool 

If 2020-21 was an off-year for Liverpool, then last season was a glorious return to form. They fell just short in the league and in Europe, but won both the FA Cup and EFL Cup. Mane's departure to Bayern Munich was something of a blow, but the Reds already had Nunez through the door, fresh from his stunning, 34-goal campaign with Benfica, while there is little to separate Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne as the league's best players. Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz add another dimension to a world-class attack. Finish above this team, and you are champions.

3. Chelsea

It has been something of a frustrating transfer window so far for Chelsea. Sterling and Koulibaly have arrived, but that has not necessarily strengthened the squad, with club-record signing Romelu Lukaku having re-joined Inter on loan and defenders Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen having left for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Tuchel wants more, and Boehly is attempting to deliver, with Marc Cucurella a rumoured target, while another centre-back is said to be on the list too. Chelsea's business might well drag on, but they should have enough to edge out Arsenal, Spurs and United to third.

4. Arsenal

It is easy to forget, given the nature of their capitulation, that Arsenal were in the box-seat to secure a Champions League place until the final week of last season, and Mikel Arteta's side have made swift moves. It is hoped Gabriel Jesus will be the poacher Arsenal have lacked and Oleksandr Zinchenko is a fine addition. Fabio Vieira is a promising understudy to the excellent Martin Odegaard, who will be supported by Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli or Emile Smith Rowe. Spurs have strengthened, but with Antonio Conte's tendency to boil over if things do not go to plan, and the likelihood their players will be relied on heavily by their national teams at the World Cup, this could be Arsenal's year.

 

Ben Spratt

1. Manchester City

City were the best team in the Premier League before they made perhaps the signing of the close-season, so why would they not still be the side to beat? Of course, the departure of Sterling could have a big impact, given his knack for vital goals, but Jack Grealish will have a bigger role and has already linked up with Haaland in pre-season. Julian Alvarez adds more depth to that attack, while Kalvin Phillips does likewise in midfield. It is tough to spot a weakness.

2. Liverpool

It would be tough to justify Liverpool finishing second, not first, were their rivals not so outstanding. The Reds are right there with them, but they have not shown quite the same consistency as City over previous seasons, and it is asking a lot for Nunez to arrive from Portugal – where he enjoyed only one truly prolific season – and immediately replicate the performance levels of Mane.

3. Tottenham

Spurs have plenty going for them, and there have been some suggestions they could even trouble the top two. When we come to write our lists of winners and losers of the transfer window, Tottenham will belong firmly in the former group, and those exciting new charges – Ivan Perisic, Yves Bissouma, Richarlison and Djed Spence arguably all improve the first XI – are being guided by a proven winner in Conte. But the gap to City and Liverpool was huge; third place would still be a great achievement.

4. Chelsea

Tottenham may not quite belong to that elite tier, but they might also argue there is another gulf between third and fourth. Neither Chelsea, Arsenal nor United could really be surprised if they fell short of Champions League football. Like Spurs, Arsenal have enjoyed a successful transfer window, but it is difficult to have faith in a team who collapsed so spectacularly last season. For all their own frustrations in the market, I'm backing Chelsea to find a way.

 

John Skilbeck

1. Manchester City

City and Liverpool finished with over 90 points each last season, and the previous time that happened, in 2018-19, it was followed by a dramatic drop-off from Guardiola's reigning champions. The dethroned Manchester giants finished 18 points adrift as Liverpool captured the 2019-20 Premier League title. Yet I fancy City to take the new season's trophy, and probably by a similarly wide margin. Haaland might need a little time to adapt; after all, his former Borussia Dortmund team-mate Jadon Sancho has not found it a cakewalk to transfer his Bundesliga form across to Manchester United. But judge Haaland not by one stinking Community Shield miss but by his excellence over the last three years. City will have to reconfigure to accommodate a pure number nine, swapping Sterling for St Erling, but don't expect their winning habit to alter one jot.

2. Chelsea

The post-Abramovich era is here, and Todd Boehly is pulling the strings when it comes to transfers now. Newcomers Sterling and Koulibaly are proven performers, and while the loss of Rudiger is a blow, offloading Lukaku made complete sense. Better to take firm and decisive action than allow any unhappiness to fester and potentially spread. Chelsea had a troubling amount of injuries last season, with Ben Chilwell particularly missed, and in March coach Thomas Tuchel spoke of a "physical overload". If they are in a better place this term, expect them to fly. Tuchel's squad is loaded with first-class talent, more could soon arrive, and they look well set to pip Liverpool to second.

3. Liverpool

The loss of Mane is massive. Among the 24 players from Europe's top five leagues who managed at least 30 games and 20 goals last season, taking all competitions into account, Mane ranked sixth for the most dribbles attempted (128), eighth for the most chances created (66), third for the most through balls attempted (17) and second for the most passes into the final third (137). You can try to replace that all-round package, but Nunez is far from like-for-like and Roberto Firmino appears to be a rapidly fading force. Liverpool have kept Mohamed Salah for the foreseeable future but will need the likes of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz to step up, while midfield may have to cough up more goals than in recent seasons. Klopp's Liverpool went the distance in every competition last season, and at some point that effort is going to take a toll.

4. Manchester United

With a reasonably clean slate, wiped of the likes of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard, there should be optimism coursing through United now the estimable Ten Hag is at the helm. Christian Eriksen ought to prove a fine signing, and Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia can hardly make the defence any worse. In fact, they should significantly pep it up. Will Ronaldo stay? Now there's a knotty saga that could run until deadline day, but would it be such a bad thing if he were to leave? Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Sancho are at the stage where they ought to be giving Premier League defenders regular nightmares, and this might be the campaign where that happens.

England goalkeeper Dean Henderson has taken an astonishing swipe at parent club Manchester United, admitting he did not want new manager Erik ten Hag to see him train as he feared the Dutch coach would want to keep him.

Henderson recently signed a deal with newly promoted Nottingham Forest for a season-long loan, having made only five appearances in all competitions for United in 2021-22.

Speaking to talkSPORT, the 25-year-old said he was "so happy" to leave Old Trafford, and claimed he had been promised a role as number one at the club prior to getting COVID-19 last season.

"To be honest with you, it's probably been the toughest 12 months of my career," he said. "I'm so happy I've got out the other end of it now, and I'm excited to be here and ready to go.

"The conversation I had [with United following Euro 2020] was 'you're coming here to be the number one goalkeeper'. I got COVID, come back, so I should have still been the number one, but then unfortunately no one followed through with anything.

"It was so frustrating as well because I turned so many good loans down last summer for that reason, and they wouldn't let me go, so it was frustrating. To sit there and waste 12 months is criminal really at my age, I was fuming.

"But I worked hard off the pitch and on the training pitch to keep improving day in, day out, so I'm really excited to be back here and looking forward to the season with Forest."

Henderson has been with the Red Devils since the age of 14 and has 49 top-flight appearances to his name, but found himself largely acting as understudy to David de Gea at United.

After successful loan spells with Sheffield United and earning international recognition with England in an impressive 2019-20 campaign, Henderson hoped to establish himself, but at the end of last season he was determined to get his move, revealing he deliberately avoided letting Ten Hag observe him in training.

"I didn't really want the manager to be able to come in and see me in training because I knew that he'd probably want to keep me, so I tried to do it before I left for the season. I told all the hierarchy 'I need to go and play football, I don't want to be here playing second fiddle'," Henderson said.

"I was almost gone before the manager came in the door and I haven't spoken to him since."

Henderson is set to make his Forest debut when they start their Premier League campaign at Newcastle United on Saturday.

A study from Ofcom ahead of the new season has found that seven out of 10 Premier League footballers have been abused on Twitter.

It also revealed that 362 tweets containing abuse are sent to Premier League players every day, and that eight out of the top 10 Premier League players most abused online played for Manchester United last season.

Half of the derogatory tweets were targeted at just 12 players, with United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire receiving the most abuse.

Other players in the top 10 included Bruno Fernandes, Fred, David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Harry Kane and Jack Grealish.

In the report, Ofcom's Group Director for Broadcasting and Online Content Kevin Bakhurst said: "Football is a game of high emotion, pride and belonging.

"Sometimes that emotion can cross the line. Over the years, football has made great strides in tackling unacceptable behaviour by small minorities, which can blight the game for everyone else.

"This kind of abuse has no place in sport, any more than in wider society.

"Reports such as this will help us to understand the problem, hold tech firms to account when we take on our new responsibilities, and ultimately create a safer life online."

Christian Eriksen revealed he snubbed repeated advances from Manchester United before signing up last month.

The Denmark international joined Erik ten Hag's side on a free transfer in July following a short-term stint with Brentford, having left Inter due to medical issues that meant he was no longer able to play in Italy.

The implantable cardioverter-defibrillator he had fitted after suffering cardiac arrest at the European Championship last year counted Eriksen out of a Serie A return to action.

Eriksen excelled with Thomas Frank's Brentford side, scoring once and contributing four assists in 11 Premier League matches, leading to United's interest.

He indicated he had previously spoken to Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer about a potential move, having been admired since first moving to the Premier League in 2013 with Tottenham.

"I've spoken to every manager who's been here at Man United to see what the situation was," Eriksen told ESPN.

"But I was at Spurs at the time and I really couldn't see myself playing in another English team at that time. I went abroad and went to Inter.

"It's been on the books, well, not on the books but it's been spoken about. For me, it wasn't the [right] timing, it wasn't there and I was at a place at Spurs for a long time and I wanted to try something abroad, and I went to Inter and ended up having a lovely time.

"But then obviously something happened in the summer and that changed a bit the career path I had in mind, and then obviously to come back to Brentford first of all and then to be here is something I didn't think could happen a year ago."

Eriksen's impressive form at Brentford led to United battling the London side for his services, but the midfielder denied there was a possibility of a return to Tottenham.

"It was only talk. They never really came with anything, so it wasn't really a thing for me to go back to Tottenham at the time and Man United were very early on, very positive and I had good conversations," he said.

"It was very positive from the first few phone calls already and the club felt like they wanted me, so it was on for a long time."

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag hailed the performance of Lisandro Martinez, who he believes will form an impressive partnership with Raphael Varane.

The Argentine made his debut for the club during the final pre-season match, a 1-1 draw against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford, and caught the eye alongside the World Cup winner.

Martinez is a player Ten Hag knows well following their time together at Ajax, and United's boss hinted that the centre-back could establish himself as Varane's partner for the season ahead, which could cast further doubt on Harry Maguire's status as a first-team regular.

"It was a really good combination with Rapha. They played solid that's good to see. He integrated quite well into the team," he told MUTV.

United goalkeeper Tom Heaton was equally impressed by the performance of his new team-mate.

"That's been the case all week, I really enjoyed playing with him today. I think he'll be top, top player for the club," Heaton told MUTV.

"I thought he was outstanding today and I'm sure everyone is looking forward to watching him play this year.

"I think [his height] has been talked about a little unfairly. What he brings, his physicality, how he uses his body, his leap, what he gives you in terms of manoeuvrability and all the ball and personality wise, I think he will add an awful lot to the team.

"Even this week, you can see already what he brings. He brings that larger than life personality, I think he was excellent today and I look forward to hopefully playing with him more this year."

Manchester United begin their Premier League campaign against Brighton and Hove Albion on August 7, then tackle Brentford before a huge clash against Liverpool later next month.

Cristiano Ronaldo made his first Manchester United appearance under Erik ten Hag in the final pre-season match against Rayo Vallecano ahead of the new campaign.

The 37-year-old has made his desire to leave United before the close of the transfer window at the end of August clear but has found suitors for his services difficult to come by.

Having missed the squad's pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia due to family reasons, Ronaldo was once again absent for the defeat against Atletico Madrid in Oslo on Saturday.

It was confirmed, however, that Ronaldo would feature in Sunday's friendly against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford - with the former Real Madrid and Juventus star named in the starting line-up.

Ronaldo played the first half at Old Trafford before being replaced at the interval by Amad Diallo, who promptly opened the scoring immediately upon his introduction.

With just 45 minutes of pre-season football under his belt, Ronaldo seems unlikely to play the entirety of Manchester United's pre-season opener against Brighton and Hove Albion next weekend.

Ten Hag has already made that clear, saying on Saturday that he was not "on the level" of his teammates.

"I cannot tell in this moment [how fit he is]. He is not on the level of the rest of the squad because he missed a lot of weeks. But he needs games and he needs training, a lot," he said following the defeat to Atletico.

Bayern Munich chief executive Oliver Kahn has ruled out a move for another striker, despite the sale of Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona.

The Bundesliga champions have been linked with moves for Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane in recent weeks, although the club have distanced themselves from such rumours.

Lewandowski scored 50 goals in all competitions last season but made it clear he wanted a new challenge in Spain and secured a move to Barca in mid-July.

Speaking after Bayern's 5-3 DFL-Supercup victory against RB Leipzig, Kahn said there was "no discussion" about bringing in another number nine.

"That was strong," he said of the performance to BILD. "You could see how many opportunities we had going forward, how many different formations we had, how surprising we can be, how many good footballers are there, how much speed we can bring into the game with many, many extremely fast players.

"It's the case that we still have options in the current team. [Joshua] Zirkzee is there, [Eric] Choupo-Moting is there, then the young Mathys Tel, who is training incredibly well at the moment. We would also have opportunities there."

Five different players found the net for Julian Nagelsmann's side against Leipzig, including new arrival Sadio Mane, and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic was pleased to see the variety that Bayern displayed.

"You could see that we are extremely dangerous, that we have many fast and dangerous players," he told BILD. "That's the idea.

"Of course, it's a different way of playing. If the boys do what we envision, I think we can spread the goals on many shoulders."

While Salihamidzic stopped short of also ruling out a new striker arriving at the Allianz Arena, he did hint that the club's incomings may be done for this transfer window, adding: "The transfer market runs until August 31, but usually we have completed our planning by then."

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