Arsenal crashed out of the Europa League with a penalty shoot-out defeat to Sporting CP on Thursday, and Mikel Arteta will be looking for an instant response in the Premier League.

The title is now their sole focus, and with Manchester City in FA Cup action this weekend, the Gunners can move eight points clear at the top should they beat Crystal Palace, who on Friday sacked Arsenal great Patrick Vieira after an 11-game winless run.

Palace are 12th but only three points above the relegation zone, and that picture could change by the time they play on Sunday.

After Nottingham Forest welcome Newcastle United on Friday, Bournemouth visit Aston Villa, Leicester City have a tough trip to Brentford, Southampton host Tottenham, and Wolves and Leeds United face off in another big match at the bottom of the table. Everton, who are also in the relegation scrap, play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Here, with the help of Opta data, Stats Perform has provided some key insights and predictions.

Southampton v Tottenham 

Between December 2019 and January 2021, Southampton won five of six Premier League games against sides starting the day in the top four of the table (L1). However, since then they are winless in 15 such games (D6 L9), conceding 43 goals and scoring just nine in return.

Southampton have scored at least once in each of their last 14 Premier League games against Spurs, since a 2-0 home loss in December 2015, but they have kept just one clean sheet in their last 21 against them, when they won 1-0 in January 2020.

In all competitions, Tottenham have lost each of their last four away games, the last three of which without scoring. This is Spurs' longest run of away defeats in succession since May 2019 (five in a row), while not since January 1983 have they lost four straight away matches without scoring (a run of five).

Best bet – Harry Kane to score or assist: Harry Kane has been directly involved in 17 goals in 15 Premier League appearances against Southampton (11 goals, six assists), having only had a hand in more goals against Leicester (22). The England captain has scored nine away goals in the competition this season – no other player in Premier League history has netted 10 times on the road in more than four separate campaigns, whereas Kane is on the verge of doing so for the seventh time.

Long shot – Richarlison to score: Richarlison was desperately unlucky not to break his duck for Spurs in the win over Forest last week, with a fierce finish ruled out for offside. The Brazil forward has netted five times in his last seven league appearances against Saints, making them his favourite team to play against when it comes to goals, but he is yet to score in the Premier League this season.

Opta prediction: Spurs are made favourites for this one by Opta's supercomputer, with Antonio Conte's team given a 54 per cent chance of victory. There is roughly a one in four chance of a draw (25.7 per cent), while Southampton, who prop up the table but could move as high as 15th with a win, are given a 20.3 per cent chance of claiming the spoils.

 

Wolves v Leeds United

Having been unbeaten in six league games against Leeds between 2017 and 2021 (W5 D1), Wolves have lost their last two against the Whites. Indeed, Leeds are looking to complete their first league double over Wolves since 2015-16 and their first in the top flight since 1973-74.

Leeds, who will be without key midfielder Tyler Adams due to a hamstring issue, have earned four points from their three Premier League games under Javi Gracia (W1 D1 L1), as many as they had in their 10 games before his arrival (W0 D4 L6). However, they are winless in their last seven away matches (D2 L5). 

Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui has won both of his previous meetings with Gracia in all competitions. These games came in the 2020-21 campaign, with Lopetegui's Sevilla beating Gracia's Valencia 1-0 in LaLiga and 3-0 in the Copa Del Rey.

Best bet – Wolves to avoid defeat: No side have fewer away wins (one) or away points (six) in the Premier League this season than Leeds, who have lost nine of their 13 away league games this term. Wolves, meanwhile, have won three of their last four home league games (L1), more than they had in their previous 12 (W2 D3 L7). 

Long shot – Wolves to score over two goals: Wolves have a shot conversion rate of 6.8 per cent in the Premier League this season, their lowest in any of their nine campaigns in the competition. Only once have they scored more than twice in a top-flight game this term, when they beat Liverpool 3-0 in February.

Opta prediction: Expect this one to be close, based on the prediction model, which makes Wolves the slight favourites (39.3 per cent), although Leeds are at 31.3 per cent. A draw is certainly feasible and is given a 29.4 per cent chance.

 

Chelsea v Everton

Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 27 Premier League home games against Everton (W15 D12) since a 1-0 loss in November 1994. Against no side have they ever had a longer unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge in their top-flight history. Everton managed a 1-1 draw with a makeshift side in the corresponding fixture last season, but a win still evades them.

Before this season, Everton had beaten Chelsea in each of the last four Premier League campaigns, although all of their victories were at home. They have not beaten the Blues in five straight league seasons since the 1930s.

Everton have won three of their seven Premier League games under Sean Dyche so far (D1 L3), as many as they had in their 20 matches under Frank Lampard this season (D6 L11), but again all of those wins have come at home.

Best bet – Chelsea to win: Everton are winless in their last 11 Premier League away games against London sides (D3 L8), failing to score in each of the last four, and Chelsea have only failed to beat the Toffees at home twice since the start of the 2016-17 season.

Long shot – Everton to win 1-0: If the visitors are to claim a victory, expect it to be a cagey one. In fact, 40 per cent (30) of Dyche's 75 Premier League wins have been by a 1-0 scoreline, including his three as Everton boss. Of the 52 managers with at least 50 wins in the competition, only Tony Pulis (42 per cent – 41 of 98) has won a higher share by a 1-0 scoreline.

Opta prediction: Given Everton's torrid form on the road – they have won fewer Premier League away games (three) and earned fewer points on the road (18) than any of the 17 ever-present sides since the start of last season – and dismal record at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea are the overwhelming favourites at 54.1 per cent on Opta's model. Everton are handed a slim 19.3 per cent chance of success, while the draw is rated at 26.6 per cent.

 

Arsenal v Crystal Palace 

Palace elected to part ways with Arsenal legend Vieira and could well be further embroiled in the relegation battle by the end of Sunday's game. After all, the Gunners have won their last five Premier League matches, netting at least three goals in four of those, including each of the last three. 

Arsenal have won eight of their nine London derbies in the Premier League this season (D1); in English Football League history, no side have ever won nine all-London match-ups in a single season. Palace, on the other hand, have won just one of their eight derbies this term. The Eagles have, however, avoided defeat in their last four Premier League away games against Arsenal, with each of the last three ending level (W1).

Since his Premier League debut for Arsenal in January, no player has been involved in more goals for the Gunners than Leandro Trossard (six – one goal, five assists). He has five assists in his last four Premier League games, as many as in his previous 64 appearances.

Best bet – Gabriel Martinelli to have 2+ shots on target: After missing the crucial penalty in Arsenal's shoot-out loss to Sporting in Europe, Martinelli will be determined to put things right. He is Arsenal's highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season with 12 goals, including five in his last five appearances. 

Long shot – Palace to keep a clean sheet: Palace have kept just one clean sheet in 22 away league games against Arsenal (49 goals conceded), a goalless draw in January 2021, while the Gunners have scored in all but one of their league games at Emirates Stadium this season.

Opta prediction: Arsenal are the favourites, although given the respective form of these sides, a 54.6 per cent win prediction perhaps feels a bit low – a reflection of Palace's recent unbeaten run at Emirates Stadium. Opta gives the draw a 26.5 per cent chance, while the supercomputer has a Palace win ranked at 18.9 per cent.

Harry Maguire believes he still has a crucial role to play at Manchester United despite falling out of favour under Erik ten Hag this season.

Maguire helped United reach the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, making a rare start as they built on a 4-1 first-leg lead with a 1-0 win at Real Betis in the competition's last 16.

In the Premier League, Maguire has made just five starts all campaign, with Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez anchoring Ten Hag's favoured United backline.

While Maguire's lack of regular minutes has led to suggestions he may leave Old Trafford at the end of the season, the England defender remains determined to have an impact on and off the pitch.

"I have an important role on and off the field at this club and every day I try and make this club succeed, whether I'm playing or not," Maguire told BT Sport after Thursday's win.

"Obviously I want to play and start more games, but I'm playing my part on and off the field. It's nice to get out there and lead the team, which is the most important part for myself and for the group."

United have only lost one of their last 15 games across all competitions – a 7-0 Premier League thrashing at Liverpool – and they could yet finish Ten Hag's first season in charge with multiple pieces of silverware.

Having beaten Newcastle United to lift the EFL Cup last month, United host Fulham in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, looking to reach the last four for an outright record 31st time (Arsenal also 30).

"It's one last big push for us as a group of players [before the March international break]," Maguire told United's media channels. 

"It's a big game, an FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford. It's going to be an unbelievable atmosphere, we know that, and it's one that we've got to prepare for. 

"We'll recover now and make sure we're ready, and we will be."

Kepa Arrizabalaga looked to be yesterday's man at Chelsea, but such has been his recent form the goalkeeper might have a long-term role to play for the Blues.

He might also be a quick fix this weekend if your fantasy league goalkeeper is having a rough time of it.

In north London, title-chasing Arsenal have a pillar of strength in their backline, and a goal threat too, as Gabriel Magalhaes makes his presence felt at each end of the pitch.

Chelsea face Everton this weekend, while Arsenal tackle Crystal Palace, and away from the capital there is a chance for Ollie Watkins to show his prowess as Aston Villa take on Bournemouth.

Tottenham, still in the hunt for a Champions League place, travel to Southampton with Son Heung-min facing perhaps his favourite opposition.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform has assessed why these four players could help your fantasy league team bring in useful points this weekend.
 

Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea v Everton)

The turnaround in Kepa's Chelsea career has been astonishing. From looking destined to be a permanent understudy, he has responded to Edouard Mendy's injury absence by making a huge impression and staking a strong claim to keep his place for the long term. Since the World Cup, only Alisson and David de Gea, each with six shutouts, have kept more clean sheets than Arrizabalaga (5).

Spaniard Kepa's 79.55 per cent save rate in this period has been bettered only by Brentford's David Raya (84.62), and this weekend he faces an Everton side who have a joint-worst goals-per-game record this season. The Toffees have 20 goals in 27 Premier League games, or just 0.74 goals per game, the same record as Southampton and Wolves.

 

Gabriel Magalhaes (Arsenal v Crystal Palace)

Gabriel got Arsenal's opener in the 3-0 win at Fulham last week, and the central defender can be a set-piece threat in another London derby on Sunday.

The Brazilian's goal at Craven Cottage was his 10th in the Premier League, more than any other defender has managed since his debut in 2020-21. This season, no defender has more Premier League goals (3) or clean sheets (12) than the Brazilian, so can you really afford to be without him?

Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa v Bournemouth)

Villa striker Watkins netted his 100th English league goal last time out (excluding play-offs) and is one away from reaching 10 Premier League goals for a third successive season.

Bournemouth will be on their guard, no doubt, a week on from shutting out Liverpool. Watkins has scored six goals in his last seven Premier League games, with only Marcus Rashford (8), Erling Haaland and Harry Kane (both 7) netting more in 2023.

Watkins has missed out on selection for the latest England squad, so he may also feel he has a point to prove this weekend.

 

Son Heung-min (Southampton v Tottenham)

Son hit four for Tottenham at St Mary's in September 2020, when the pandemic made it a behind-closed-doors game.

The South Korean forward has more goals (10) and more goal involvements (14) against Southampton than he has against any other side in the competition, including eight goal involvements in his last six games against them (6 goals, 2 assists).

He scored in the win over Nottingham Forest last weekend, and will fancy it against struggling Saints.

Patrick Vieira has been sacked as Crystal Palace manager after overseeing a dire 11-game winless run in the Premier League, which has left the Eagles fighting to avoid relegation.

Palace sit 12th in the Premier League table but are just three points clear of the bottom three following Wednesday's 1-0 loss to rivals Brighton and Hove Albion.

The Eagles are without a Premier League win since New Year's Eve and recently became the first team since records began (in 2003-04) to go three successive games in the competition without having a shot on target.

Club chairman Steve Parish said: "It is with enormous regret that this difficult decision has been made. 

"Ultimately, results in recent months have placed us in a precarious league position and we felt a change is necessary to give us the best chance of retaining Premier League status.

"That said, Patrick's impact since joining us in the summer of 2021 has been significant, and he is held in the highest regard by myself, and all of his colleagues."

Vieira led Palace to a 12th-placed Premier League finish and the semi-finals of the FA Cup in his only full season in charge, having previously had spells at New York City FC and Nice.

Palace added the search for Vieira's successor had begun and an update would be provided "in due course".

The relegation candidates make the daunting trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Premier League leaders Arsenal on Sunday, having won just one of their eight London derby games in the competition this term (D2 L5).

It wasn't too long ago that it all looked rather bleak for Graham Potter.

Chelsea had splashed the cash in January, breaking the Premier League's record transfer fee and handing out seven and eight-year deals to some of Europe's hottest prospects.

Yet that expenditure did not have the desired immediate effect, with the Blues managing just one victory between the start of January and the end of February.

March, however, has heralded the shoots of recovery, and while Chelsea remain 10th in the top flight ahead of hosting relegation-threatened Everton on Saturday, they have won their last three games, which included progressing past Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.

The pressure seems to have eased on Potter, and Chelsea will now focus on securing a European place for next season – which, given their extraordinary spend, will be the least Todd Boehly and Co. will expect.

But just how are each of Chelsea's mid-season additions getting on?

Benoit Badiashile (Grade: B)

The first through the door at Stamford Bridge in January, Badiashile arrived from Monaco in a deal reportedly in the region of €38million (£33.7m).

A powerful, left-sided centre-back, Badiashile was a regular for Monaco and at 21, still has a long career ahead of him. He has made seven league appearances since his switch to England, starting six of those games, though he was not included in the Blues' Champions League squad.

Joao Felix (Grade: B)

Joao Felix's relationship with Diego Simeone had reportedly becoming strained over the first half of the season, and Atletico Madrid's record signing has been given a chance to rediscover his spark in England.

Whether or not this loan deal will be made permanent remains to be seen, but the Portugal forward has certainly shown flashes of his immense talent, even if that has not always turned into goals. A promising debut was marred by a red card after a reckless challenge on Fulham's Kenny Tete, which saw Joao Felix banned for three matches, but he has made eight appearances since he returned, starting each one.

Only Kai Havertz has registered more expected goals (xG) than Joao Felix's 3.83 in Chelsea's squad in that time, and the data shows the former Benfica prodigy has been unfortunate with his finishing, scoring once from an expected goals on target (xGOT) figure of 2.95. Essentially, based on the quality of his attempts, he would be anticipated to be on three goals already, while he has also hit the woodwork on three occasions.

 

David Datro Fofana (Grade: C)

For all Chelsea's business, they did not sign an out-and-out proven striker in the January window. Fofana is arguably the best fit for the position of the players they brought in, but the 20-year-old Ivory Coast international is extremely raw.

Fofana scored 15 Eliteserien goals in 2022 for Molde, but the Premier League is a world away than Norway's top tier. He has made three appearances for the Blues, one in the FA Cup and two in the league. His only start did not go according to plan, however, as he was taken off at half-time in a 1-0 home loss to lowly Southampton. Fofana played two key passes and also managed two shots, but he has not played a senior game since that defeat on February 18. 

Andrey Santos (Grade: N/A)

Another one for the future, Santos has just turned 18. He's back playing on loan for Vasco da Gama in Brazil, where he came through the ranks and made his debut at the age of 16.

Mykhaylo Mudryk (Grade: C)

Chelsea won the tussle for Ukraine international Mudryk, getting one over on league leaders Arsenal in the process. However, paying a fee that could reach £89m (€100m) means the expectations are sky-high.

An impressive cameo against Liverpool was followed up by a start against Fulham, yet the 22-year-old was subbed off at half-time having failed to have a shot, create a chance or attempt a cross.

 

Mudryk has been in and out of Potter's starting XI and is yet to score, though he did provide his first assist with a header back to Mateo Kovacic in a 3-1 win over Leicester City last week. Chelsea fans will have to be patient but there's a reason the winger was so highly sought after while at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Noni Madueke (Grade: C)

Just five days after Mudryk's arrival, Chelsea decided to sign another winger. Madueke had seemed set to fill the Cody Gakpo void at PSV following the Netherlands international's move to Liverpool, yet the Blues decided they needed to bolster their forward options.

Like Badiashile and Fofana, Madueke was not listed in Chelsea's Champions League squad, so he is only an option in the Premier League for now. He has made four appearances and two starts, creating five goalscoring opportunities.

Madueke has plenty of potential but it does seem he might have been better served staying at PSV for more game time.

Malo Gusto (Grade: N/A)

Like Santos, full-back Gusto is back on loan at the club he was signed from, Lyon, who Chelsea paid a reported £26m (€29.7m) towards the end of the transfer window. The 19-year-old was a regular in Ligue 1 until sustaining a thigh muscle injury in early February, and he is yet to return to action.

Enzo Fernandez (Grade: B+)

The cherry on top of Chelsea's hugely expensive cake came on deadline day, as they smashed the British transfer record to sign World Cup-winning midfielder Fernandez from Benfica for a cool £106.7m (€120m).

Fernandez was crucial to Argentina's success in Qatar but only had half a season in Europe under his belt, with the 22-year-old having only joined Benfica from River Plate last year.

 

He has started all eight of the matches he has been available for and has shown some excellence in possession – a sublime cross for Joao Felix against West Ham and an exquisite, chipped pass for Kai Havertz to latch onto against Leicester have both resulted in assists.

Fernandez has already attempted 264 more passes than any other Chelsea player since his debut (623) and has been involved in the most open play shot-ending sequences (24), while his 96 duels and 44 duels won are also team-highs in that time. 

A goal has so far evaded Fernandez and Karim Adeyemi got the better of him too easily for Dortmund's winner in the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie last month, but it's been a strong start.

Borussia Dortmund are reportedly fighting to keep hold of forward Julian Brandt amid interest from England and Italy's biggest clubs.

Brandt, 26, is enjoying arguably his best season in the yellow and black, with nine goals in all competitions tying his best return since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

The Germany international, with 39 senior caps to his name, has capitalised on the extra eyes pointed towards Dortmund this season, delivering strong performances alongside super prospects Jude Bellingham and Youssoufa Moukoko.

A slew of Champions League clubs are said to have enquired about the availability of Brandt, although Dortmund are reportedly desperate to keep him at the club long-term.

 

TOP STORY – PREMIER LEAGUE AND SERIE A LEADERS LOOK TO BRANDT

According to Football Insider, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool, Newcastle United, Napoli and Inter have all been closely monitoring Brandt as he nears the final 12 months of his contract.

The report states Dortmund feel confident they will be able to retain their in-form talent, despite the rising interest, but they could be forced into a move if Brandt does not indicate he will remain with the club beyond next season.

With an enormous windfall on the horizon due to Bellingham's expected sale, the club are likely under no financial pressure to move on from Brandt earlier than they would like.

 

ROUND-UP

– Fichajes.net is reporting that Real Madrid are surprise suitors for Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, who is not expected to return to Stamford Bridge when his current loan at Inter ends.

– According to The I, Newcastle will make 26-year-old Leicester City midfielder James Maddison a priority signing at the end of the season, and the interest will be mutual if the Magpies can make the Champions League.

Barcelona are planning a €100million double move to secure both 25-year-old Villarreal right-back Juan Foyth and 18-year-old Athletico Paranaense forward Vitor Roque, per Fichajes.net.

– 90min is reporting Manchester United, City, Newcastle, Brighton and Hove Albion, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Brentford are all scouting breakout 20-year-old Celta Vigo midfielder Gabri Veiga, who has a £35m (€40m) release clause.

– According to journalist Florian Plettenberg, 24-year-old Napoli striker Victor Osimhen dreams of one day playing in the Premier League, and would be open to a move to either England or Bayern Munich.

Tottenham wish to keep hold of Harry Kane for the rest of the striker's career, according to Antonio Conte, who reiterated his own commitment to Spurs.

Kane's double against Nottingham Forest last time out moved him onto 20 Premier League goals for the season – the sixth time in his career he has achieved that feat.

The England captain has been in sensational form in what has otherwise been an up-and-down campaign for Spurs, whose sole focus for the remainder of the season is on securing a Champions League place.

Kane will be out of contract at the end of next season, though it has been reported Spurs are desperate not to lose the 29-year-old.

While Conte's own future at Spurs appears far from certain, the Italian is convinced Tottenham will do all they can to keep hold of Kane for the rest of his playing days.

"I think this is a question for the club," Conte said in a press conference on Thursday. "For sure the club wants to involve Harry Kane for the rest of his career, in my opinion.

"When you have this type of player, a world-class striker like him, you want him to stay here for the rest of his life.

"But then, you know football. Sometimes it's unpredictable but it's not in my task to make a decision. This is the decision for the club and for Harry."

 

Conte was also pressed on his situation, with some disgruntlement having grown within the Tottenham support following meek Champions League and FA Cup exits to Milan and Sheffield United respectively.

"I think that we have to accept every type of situation," Conte said. "The most important thing to know is that you are working very hard every day at the club that you are working for.

"For the manager, it's important to do this and to know that you are giving not [just] 100 per cent, but much more to improve the club that believes in you."

Reflecting on his comments in the wake of Spurs' defeat to Milan, when he said Tottenham might sack him at the end of the season, Conte explained: "I don't think the club is thinking this. I think the club sees every day what me and my staff are doing at this club. It was only an answer about my future.

"I think there is not one club who can tell the manager you are staying here until the end of the season. The future is really strange and you don't know what will happen tomorrow.

"But I repeat, in my opinion, I will try in every moment to do everything. Me and my staff.

"The club appreciates this. If you continue to ask me if I'm going to sign a new contract, it shows the club is appreciating what we [have been] doing in the last year and a half."

Julian Alvarez was backed to become one of the world's most-feared strikers after extending his Manchester City contract on Thursday.

The Argentina World Cup winner committed to a one-year extension, meaning he is signed up to City through to the end of the 2027-28 season.

Former River Plate frontman Alvarez has managed 10 goals in 33 games for City to date, starting 14 times and scoring at a rate of one strike every 160.1 minutes.

He is operating in the shadows of Erling Haaland, as the Norwegian enjoys a record-breaking first season in England.

However, City are confident 23-year-old Alvarez is already capable of causing his own damage at the highest level in the club game, and are optimistic he will only improve over the next five years.

Alvarez said after signing up: "I have been really pleased with my first season here, but I have plenty more I can do. I know I can be better, and City offer me everything I need to fulfil my potential. I am now focused on getting better and helping City win trophies."

Txiki Begiristain, City's director of football, described Alvarez as "the ideal blueprint for a young footballer".

"His progress so far has been really good, but we are now fully focused on developing his game even further and turning him into one of the best strikers in world football," said Begiristain, who has completed a decade at City since joining from Barcelona.

Alvarez's four goals at the World Cup underlined his rapid progress, with the striker proving a capable foil for Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi.

Begiristain said: "We saw at the World Cup what a special talent he is. To win that trophy at his age is amazing and we are all very proud of what he achieved."

Virgil van Dijk highlighted the importance of Champions League football for Liverpool in their bid to improve the squad for next season.

Jurgen Klopp's side suffered elimination from Europe's elite competition with a resounding 6-2 aggregate defeat against Real Madrid in the last 16.

Sitting six points behind fourth-placed Tottenham in the Premier League with a game in hand over the north London side, Liverpool face a fight to secure their spot in next season's competition.

Significant departures may also be on the cards, with Roberto Firmino already announcing he will leave upon the expiration of his contract, and Van Dijk understands being able to offer Champions League football may be crucial in the hunt for new additions.

"Obviously, players are going to leave. That's been announced, so, if we want to be where we have been the last five years, we need quality imports, especially with those players leaving," he told reporters.

"Everyone knows that's going to be very difficult. It is going to be very difficult to find the right players, but the club has to do their job in this case.

"We still have a lot of games to play and we want to be in the Champions League. I think that will also help to attract the best players in the world. Not all the time but it will definitely help."

Due to Fulham's involvement in the FA Cup quarter-finals, Liverpool are not in Premier League action this weekend and have plenty of time to prepare for a crucial run of fixtures.

Following the upcoming international break, Liverpool face back-to-back away matches against Manchester City and Chelsea before welcoming league leaders Arsenal to Anfield in a stretch that could define their season.

"It's going to be very defining and that's something we all know," Van Dijk added.

"It's been a season where we can't find the consistency that we have had for the last few years, but we need to get it back.

"It sounds very simple but it's the most difficult part of football. The most difficult part of being a footballer is to stay consistent in each and every game.

"We will give it absolutely everything because I want to play in the Champions League, we all want to play in the Champions League. The fans want to play in the Champions League.

"We are the players on the pitch, we have to perform, and we have to show it, but we need also our fans. They have stuck with us in the good times, and we need them probably even more in this time. We will fight."

Manchester United great Andrew Cole expects Erik ten Hag to act decisively on Harry Maguire's future at the end of the season, having found a "brilliant" defensive duo in Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez.

Maguire has struggled for regular minutes since Ten Hag took charge last year, only making five starts during an encouraging Premier League campaign for the Red Devils.

The defender – who was named in Gareth Southgate's England squad for games against Italy and Ukraine on Thursday – has been linked with an exit after seeing Varane and Martinez establish themselves as regulars.

Ten Hag has taken several big decisions since arriving at Old Trafford – not least to allow Cristiano Ronaldo's departure – and Cole expects him to be similarly firm with Maguire.

Asked about Maguire's future, Cole told Stats Perform: "That's ultimately down to the manager. I think Manchester United for many years have really struggled to find defensive partnerships. 

"If you look at the money they've spent on centre-halves… Maguire, [Victor] Lindelof, [Eric] Bailly, obviously Varane and Martinez now.

"That's five, and if you look at the money they've spent, it's easily over £200million on centre-halves. I think now they've finally got a partnership which looks right. 

"For Maguire, it has been difficult. He struggled at the backend of last season, went to the World Cup and did well, came back and struggled at Manchester United. 

"The manager has made a decision to go with these two, Varane and Martinez, who have been absolutely brilliant."

On Ten Hag's style of management, Cole added: "With the way football is now, it's about managing people.

"You're managing and massaging egos, that's what football is about. 

"It's not like you can treat every individual the same. They're not all the same, some react to things better than others.

"From the outside looking in, it looks like he [Ten Hag] is very disciplined. The players respect him, he respects the players and he is getting the best out of them, that's what you want."

United face Real Betis in the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday, before a home Premier League match against Fulham on Sunday.

Liverpool midfielder Stefan Bajcetic has confirmed he will not play again this season after suffering an adductor injury.

The 18-year-old made his debut for Liverpool as a substitute in the 9-0 win over Bournemouth in August, but became a more consistent part of Jurgen Klopp's first-team plans following the World Cup, making 19 appearances in all, with 11 starts.

Bajcetic scored his first senior goal in the 3-1 win at Aston Villa in December, and started in the 5-2 Champions League last-16 first leg defeat to Real Madrid.

He was ruled out of the 1-0 return leg loss with an adductor problem, and Bajcetic took to social media on Thursday to confirm it is an issue that will keep him out for the rest of the campaign.

"Unfortunately I've picked up an injury that will keep me out until the end of the season," he wrote on Instagram. "It's very sad to say goodbye to this amazing season for me but I understand this is part of football and will only make me stronger physically and mentally.

"I would also like to say thank you to you Reds for all the support through the season and I assure you I will do my best to be back stronger than ever."

It is the latest setback in a season to forget for Klopp, who was also without Thiago Alcantara and captain Jordan Henderson for Wednesday's game at the Santiago Bernabeu, while forward Luis Diaz has not featured since sustaining a knee injury against Arsenal in October.

The Reds are out of all cup competitions and sit sixth in the Premier League table as they try to chase down the top four and Champions League qualification.

Due to their elimination from the FA Cup and the upcoming international break, Liverpool do not play again until their trip to Manchester City on April 1.

There is uncertainty at Paris Saint-Germain due to fears over further financial fair play sanctions, leading to speculation of numerous players being sold or offloaded.

L'Equipe claimed earlier this week that PSG had put on hold contract negotiations with Sergio Ramos and Lionel Messi.

Messi is contracted with PSG until the end of this season, although he reportedly had come to a verbal agreement with the club in December.

Back in September, the Ligue 1 leaders were hit with a €10million fine for FFP violations after the 2020-21 season with a further €45m suspended for any future infringements.

TOP STORY – MESSI'S OFFER TO ECLIPSE RONALDO'S RECORD

Marca reports Lionel Messi is set to receive a world-record €220million (£193m) per year offer from an unnamed Saudi Arabian club.

Messi's contemporary rival Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr in January in a deal worth €200m, the highest football salary in history.

The Mirror claims the unnamed club is Al Hilal. The Argentinian has constantly been linked with the MLS too.

ROUND-UP

–  Barcelona head coach Xavi has been in touch with Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan about a move, with his contract running out at the end of this season, claims AS.

– Calciomercato claims Marco Verratti is weighing up a move away from Paris Saint-Germain following recent criticism. Verratti penned a contract extension until 2026 recently.

Manchester United are pondering tabling a £105m offer for Eintracht Frankfurt forward Randal Kolo Muani, per Sport Bild.

– Mundo Deportivo claims Manchester United are interested in Barcelona's Franck Kessie as a midfield partner for Casemiro, while Tottenham and Chelsea are also circling for him.

Arsenal are interested in Real Madrid midfielder Eden Hazard who may be available for a cut price with his current deal due to expire in 2024, reports Fichajes.

Paul Pogba is eager to remain at Juventus despite battling injuries throughout this season, claims 90min.

Liverpool play Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal in consecutive matches at the start of April, making up a week that Jurgen Klopp acknowledges could be "pretty decisive" in the Reds' season.

After being knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid on Wednesday, Liverpool's only remaining aim is securing a return to Europe's elite club competition for next season.

That is no guarantee in a difficult campaign, sitting sixth, six points behind Tottenham with a game in hand and two points behind Newcastle United having played a game more.

Consistency has deserted Klopp's side, as shown by their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth six days on from a 7-0 victory over Manchester United.

But Klopp is determined to achieve a top-four finish and knows just how vital the next stretch of fixtures could prove.

"Of course, it is 'the' competition and we want to be part of it every year," the manager said. "That's a massive task for us, we all know that.

"When we come back from the international break, we have a proper football week ahead of us, I would say, with three games: City, Chelsea and Arsenal, which will then probably define what we get out of it.

"People might say we lost it in Bournemouth, but I think this week is a pretty decisive one, so we have to hope now the boys come back healthy, early enough, in the right shape and then we will try it."

Klopp was speaking after the 1-0 loss to Madrid, which was followed by the LaLiga giants playing Liverpool anthem You'll Never Walk Alone in the stadium.

"It is a really nice gesture," Klopp said. "We are two heavyweights who meet each other quite frequently in international football.

"I think it is clear we respect each other a lot, and whoever did it, whoever was doing something like that, [made] a really nice gesture, I have to say.

"I was not angry after the game, but I was disappointed. I would be angry if we would have played better and it was close and then they win because of a penalty which was not a penalty or stuff like this.

"But in the end that all didn't happen. Real Madrid were just the better side and I am long enough in the business to respect that."

Stan Kroenke and son Josh have become co-chairs at Arsenal as part of a major restructuring at the club.

The shake-up, which will also see Tim Lewis become executive vice-chair, was announced by Arsenal on their official website on Wednesday.

Josh Kroenke was appointed as a non-executive director in 2013, but he has had a far more hands-on role in recent years.

Lifelong Arsenal supporter Lewis has worked in the same position since 2020.

An Arsenal statement read: "The appointments are a recognition of how our leadership structure has evolved over the past several seasons since Kroenke Sports & Entertainment assumed 100 per cent ownership of Arsenal Football Club in 2018.  

"Stan, Josh and Tim have worked together to drive our club forward and their appointments bring clarity to our structure that reflect their roles and responsibilities and will ensure we continue in our pursuit of progress and success."

Arsenal find themselves five points clear at the top of the Premier League with 11 games to go in their pursuit of their first title in 19 years.

Commenting on the structural changes, owner Stan Kroenke said: "This is a simple evolution as part of us all driving Arsenal forward and further reaffirms our family's long-standing commitment to this great club.  

"Stability in football has never been more important as we move past the pandemic, and we believe this is the perfect time to formalise these roles.  

"Our objectives and ambition will never waver – to field teams that compete for trophies at the highest level and lead our club in a way that inspires our passionate supporters around the world.  

"Supported by our director, Phil Harris, and together with our executive team and all our wonderful people, we have an incredible opportunity to build on the values and traditions of Arsenal Football Club."

Mohamed Salah is contracted with Liverpool until 2025 having penned an extension in July.

Salah's new deal is reportedly worth around £350,000 per week.

However, the 30-year-old has only managed 11 Premier League goals this term, with Liverpool's hopes of mounting a title charge long gone, and their place in next season's Champions League is far from secure.

There is now speculation that one of Europe's elite is looking to poach Salah ahead of next season.

 

TOP STORY – SALAH STRONGLY WEIGHING UP LIVERPOOL EXIT

Fichajes reports Mohamed Salah is strongly considering departing Liverpool, with Paris Saint-Germain circling.

The Egypt forward extended his Anfield stay last year but the situation has changed amid an underwhelming season.

Liverpool might be in need of a revamp next season, with Roberto Firmino already confirmed to be on his way out, following Sadio Mane's exit last year.

Jurgen Klopp will surely want to keep Salah, but if PSG offer huge money, it could provide the German with the cash needed to rebuild, with Borussia Dortmund's sought-after midfielder Jude Bellingham widely reported to be Liverpool's priority target.

ROUND-UP

–  Tottenham do not want to sell talisman Harry Kane even if he does not commit to a new deal, with his contract due to expire in 2024, according to Sky Sports. Kane has been linked with Manchester United and Bayern Munich, while he wanted to join Manchester City in 2021.

City, meanwhile, have agreed on a new five-and-a-half-year contract for Argentina forward Julian Alvarez amid interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, according to Fabrizio Romano.

City have also asked Napoli about Victor Osimhen's availability, reports Florian Plettenberg. The Nigerian forward has interest from PSG, Chelsea and Manchester United too.

– Football Insider claims Chelsea have made Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong their primary focus for the next transfer window.

Juventus may move for PSG pair Juan Bernat and Renato Sanches with Juan Cuadrado and Adrien Rabiot set to exit, reports Calciomercato.

– The Times reports former Spain head coach Luis Enrique would be interested in becoming Tottenham boss should Antonio Conte depart.

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