In a pre-match news conference lacking much talk of the opposition, there was one question that stood out in that regard ahead of Rangers' Europa League final clash with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Gers captain James Tavernier was pointedly asked for his opinion on Eintracht wing-back Filip Kostic, given the pair are likely to see a lot of each other on the flank they'll share.

"Obviously I respect how he's been playing, he's a top player," Tavernier said. "But, I've just got to bring the best version of myself when the game starts and try to cause him all the problems, try to make him deal with me for the majority of the game. That's all I can really do."

Tavernier's response didn't offer any particularly great insight, but his mentality of wanting to cause Kostic as many problems was at least another identifier of how their duel could be such a key battle.

Of course, it's worth pointing out that Tavernier, a right-back, remarkably heads into Wednesday's game as the Europa League's top scorer on seven goals, and realistically – or, unrealistically – only a hat-trick from Eintracht's Daichi Kamada can prevent the Englishman from at least ending the season with a share of the competition's golden boot.

Further to that, he netted 19 times over the course of the 2020-21 season and could yet match that figure this term – he also has an impressive assists haul of 17.

If it needs reiterating, he's a huge contributor for Rangers in the final third.

So, given he's technically a right-back, there's obviously an element of Tavernier needing to be solid defensively on Wednesday, but some might suggest it's even more essential he's as sharp as ever going forward as that would not only give Rangers a credible threat on the right, but it would potentially keep Kostic occupied in a deeper position.

Granted, Eintracht's set-up with a back three should always ensure they have an extra man to cover for Kostic's runs forward, while the two attacking midfielders supporting Rafael Borre up top often occupy narrow, deeper berths in order to maximise the space out wide for their biggest threat.

Yet there's always the possibility of an overload in behind Kostic if the conditions are right, such is his attacking influence.

 

After all, the frequency at which Kostic delivers into the box is frankly astonishing. This season, he has been the executor of 519 crosses and corners, 140 more than any other player in the top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold is second with 379.

Kostic's 78 successful crosses from open play is also a season-high. Of course, you would expect him to lead the way given he's attempted so many more than anyone else, but his 26.8 per cent accuracy (crosses/corners) is right in line with the average (among players with at least 100 attempted). That in itself is impressive given his greater frequency.

Another way of looking at it is, he is producing one accurate open-play cross every 45.4 minutes. While that may not sound incredible on the face of it, his 12.4 expected assists (xA) is the 10th highest among players in the top five leagues, highlighting just how much of a weapon he is in terms of his creative quality.

So, while he may be classed as a wing-back in terms of his position on a team line-up graphic, the Serbian is there for his attacking tendencies.

A cursory glance at his map of open-play chances created proves that point.

 

But Rangers must also be aware of the danger posed on the opposite flank.

Ansgar Knauff has been one of the stars of Eintracht's journey to the final, with the 20-year-old becoming something of a revelation in the past few months.

As recently as mid-January he was turning out for Borussia Dortmund's second team in the third tier. Then he joined Eintracht on loan and has since scored important Europa League goals against Barcelona and West Ham.

His impact on the road to Seville has been significant, with his brilliant athleticism, bravery and confidence on the ball making him a real asset on the right-hand side.

Before Knauff's arrival, Eintracht were rather lopsided, with their other options on the right far from convincing. Sure, Kostic remains their main outlet, but Knauff's emergence has provided them with another – albeit stylistically different – threat on the other side, giving them greater balance.

 

Across all competitions since his Eintracht debut in early February, only Kostic (5.6) and Jesper Lindstrom (2.6) have amassed better xA records than Knauff, who is also fifth to those two, Borre and Kamada in terms of xA and xG (expected goals) combined.

He may not be their deadliest weapon, but he's proven he can offer them a lot, and his team-high 61 dribble attempts in that period proves he's happy to make his markers work for their money.

Oliver Glasner's team is full of neat, technical players and is also blessed with fine work ethic, as it would need to be to play their high-pressing football.

But their width and desire to attack from the flanks is fundamental to how they play – while it may be easier said than done, limiting their effectiveness out wide would go a long way to ending Rangers' 50-year European trophy drought.

It appears Raheem Sterling's future is away from Manchester City.

Down the pecking order, Sterling has been linked with Barcelona.

City, however, are believed to want a player as part of any deal.

 

TOP STORY – STERLING OUT, TER STEGEN IN?

Manchester City are interested in a swap deal that could see Raheem Sterling move to Barcelona in exchange for Marc-Andre ter Stegen, according to El Nacional.

Barca are reportedly trying to bring Sterling to Camp Nou, with the England international struggling for regular game time at the Premier League champions.

Pep Guardiola had previously tried to bring Frenkie de Jong to Manchester but Barca were not keen, though the City manager is now interested in goalkeeper Ter Stegen – who has been linked with Bayern Munich in the past.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid plan to extend Luka Modric's contract for one more season, reports Marca. The 36-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season. He has previously been linked with Milan and Inter.

- Diario AS claims Barcelona are eyeing a move for Spain and Chelsea star Cesar Azpilicueta. The 32-year-old is out of contract at season's end.

- Gazzetta dello Sport claims Milan are accelerating their efforts to sign Lille and Portugal star Renato Sanches. It comes amid uncertainty over soon-to-be free agent Franck Kessie, who is tipped to leave Milan following reported interest from the likes of Manchester UnitedBarcaParis Saint-GermainTottenham and Inter. Sanches has also been suggested as a target for Liverpool and Wolves.

- Calciomercato claims CityLiverpoolJuventus and Roma are targeting Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Denis Zakaria.

- Serie A champions Inter are pushing to sign Eintracht Frankfurt's Filip Kostic, per Gazzetta dello sport. Inter tried to prise the winger from Eintracht at the start of the season.

Bayern Munich's unbeaten start to Julian Nagelsmann's tenure came to an end on Sunday with a shock 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt.

The Bavarian giants had won nine in a row since an opening-game draw and looked set for another routine victory at Allianz Arena when Leon Goretzka deservedly put them in front.

But Martin Hinteregger equalised for Frankfurt before the interval and Kevin Trapp made a number of saves to put the visitors on course for a fifth successive 1-1 league draw.

Not content with only a point, Filip Kostic rifled in a winner seven minutes from time to inflict a first home Bundesliga loss on stunned champions Bayern since November 2019.

Are three stars set for Real Madrid?

Madrid have long been linked with soon-to-be free agent Kylian Mbappe, who reportedly wants to leave PSG for the Santiago Bernabeu.

In-demand forward Erling Haaland and Paul Pogba are also believed to be targets of the Spanish powerhouse.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE, HAALAND AND POGBA WANTED IN MADRID

Real Madrid are eyeing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, according to Marca.

Madrid tried to sign Mbappe before the transfer deadline but the LaLiga giants are expected to reignite their interest at the end of the season, when the PSG star is set to become a free agent.

It could be a busy off-season at the Santiago Bernabeu, where Haaland and Pogba are also wanted.

Haaland has been linked with United, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona, while Pogba is reportedly wanted by PSG and Juve.

 

ROUND-UP

- FootMercato claims PSG have started their pursuit of Milan star Franck Kessie, who is also reportedly attracting interest from Tottenham. Kessie is out of contract at the end of the season.

Inter could target Chelsea full-back Marcos Alonso to replace soon-to-be free agents Aleksandar Kolarov and Ivan Perisic, per Calciomercato. The Serie A champions have also been linked with Eintracht Frankfurt's Filip Kostic.

Bayern face competition from Barca and Liverpool for Salzburg forward Karim Adeyemi, says Bild.

Will Kylian Mbappe join Real Madrid before the transfer window shuts?

It has been confirmed that Mbappe wants to leave Paris Saint-Germain, despite Lionel Messi's arrival.

Madrid must now strike an agreement with PSG or wait to sign the France international on a free transfer.

 

TOP STORY – PSG NAME MBAPPE PRICE

Paris Saint-Germain want €220million for wantaway Real Madrid target Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Thursday's Diario AS.

Madrid reportedly offered €160m for Mbappe, who is out of contract at the end of 2021-22, as PSG sporting director Leonardo confirmed the Frenchman's desire to leave Paris on Wednesday.

PSG are said to named their price, with RMC claiming Madrid will make an improved offer for Mbappe.

Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sky Italia's Gianluca Di Marzio says Manchester City are offering Cristiano Ronaldo a two-year deal, though the Premier League holders are unwilling to pay Juventus a transfer fee. There has been talk of Gabriel Jesus or Bernardo Silva being included in a possible deal to sign Ronaldo. It comes after City failed to prise Harry Kane from Tottenham, while Ronaldo has been linked with former club United as well as PSG and Madrid.

Chelsea have readied their final bid for Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, per Fabrizio Romano. The Champions League holders are also trying to sign Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez – a target for rivals United.

Antonio Conte is one of the top choices to replace Mikel Arteta if Arsenal sack their manager, according to the Independent. Conte is without a club after guiding Inter to the Scudetto in 2020-21.

- Di Marzio claims Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich are interested in Brest midfielder Romain Faivre, who is in talks with Milan.

Lazio are pushing to sign Eintracht Frankfurt star Filip Kostic as Joaquin Correa nears a switch to Inter, reports Calciomercato.

Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a dramatic late winner in contentious circumstances as Portugal threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Serbia in World Cup qualifying on Saturday.

Diogo Jota had seen his double cancelled out by Aleksandar Mitrovic and Filip Kostic – the former becoming Serbia's all-time leading scorer with his 39th international goal – at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.

Portugal skipper Ronaldo was then convinced his last-gasp effort had crossed the line but the officials judged Stefan Mitrovic cleared before all of the ball had done so, with the Juventus superstar booked for his protestations before he angrily threw his captain's armband on the floor.

It means both Portugal and Serbia, who had Nikola Milenkovic sent off prior to the late drama, each have four points - one more than Luxembourg, who sealed a remarkable 1-0 win against the Republic of Ireland.

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