Ronald Koeman claimed an attempted move to bring Georginio Wijnaldum to Barcelona fell through after president Joan Laporta delayed a deal.

The Dutchman, who was fired by the LaLiga outfit last October after 14 months in charge at Camp Nou, struggled at times on the Barcelona bench and was replaced by Xavi.

Koeman, who will embark on a second spell as Netherlands head coach after the World Cup in Qatar, has confirmed he attempted to bring in compatriot Wijnaldum during the final transfer window of his Barcelona tenure.

However, Koeman contends that president Laporta, then recently returned to the position as Josep Maria Bartomeu's successor, stymied any move by dragging his heels.

"I tried to sign Wijnaldum for Barca, but I failed because the president wanted to play with me more than bring in a player," Koeman told Dutch newspaper AD.

"That delayed the operation, and for that reason, he opted for PSG. Otherwise, he would have played for Barcelona."

Wijnaldum left Liverpool in June 2021 to join Paris Saint-Germain, but he struggled across a dismal first season, resulting in him being loaned out to Roma for the current campaign.

A serious leg injury has since left Wijnaldum sidelined, however, making it highly unlikely he will be included in the Netherlands' squad for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

Hertha Berlin winger Jean-Paul Boetius will undergo surgery on Friday after tests revealed the Dutchman has a testicular tumour.

The 28-year-old, capped once by the Netherlands, is a former Feyenoord and Basel player who joined Hertha in August after a four-year spell with Mainz.

His club said in a statement: "Jean-Paul Boetius has been diagnosed with a testicular tumour following the results of a urological test on Wednesday, and will be out for the foreseeable future. The 28-year-old will undergo an operation on Friday."

Fredi Bobic, Hertha's managing director of sport, backed Boetius to make a full recovery.

Bobic said: "As tough as it is to hear at first, we are full of hope that Jean-Paul will be able to recover and return to us as soon as possible.

"He will receive our full support, until he returns. The Hertha family are by his side and wish him all the best."

The news for Boetius follows Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastien Haller being found to have a testicular tumour in July, just weeks after joining from Ajax. Haller had surgery and has since undergone chemotherapy.

The World Cup in Qatar is now just two months away and the first international break of the season is the final opportunity for squads to convene before coming together for the tournament.

In Europe, the Nations League offers competitive action in the build-up to Qatar, while teams elsewhere will face friendlies.

With a mid-season window and just one break before the action commences in November, it presents a challenge for any new faces to establish themselves in their international side before the squad for the World Cup is selected.

Some have been handed glorious opportunities though and Stats Perform has assessed some of the newcomers.

 

Ivan Toney

England's main striker role is nailed down by skipper Harry Kane but the role of understudy is a competitive one with the likes of Callum Wilson, Tammy Abraham and Ollie Watkins having earned opportunities – and Ivan Toney is the latest to join that list.

Quickly settling into life in the Premier League, Toney netted 12 goals for Brentford in their inaugural campaign last season but has hit new heights in 2022, scoring 13 goals this calendar year.

Toney doesn't just offer goals, though, as he has also contributed seven assists since August 2021, totalling 24 goal involvements (17 goals, 7 assists) in that period, with Kane (31) the only English player to have more in the Premier League.

This season, Toney has five goals and two assists for Brentford, with a tally of seven goal involvements only bettered by Erling Haaland (12) in the Premier League.

Nico Williams

Brother of Inaki Williams, capped once by Spain in a friendly before switching allegiances to Ghana, 20-year-old Nico Williams has been handed a chance by Luis Enrique, who insists the decision is not to ensure he doesn't follow in the footsteps of his sibling.

The right-winger has established himself in Athletic Bilbao's first-team and has made a firm impact this season, scoring twice – including in the recent 3-2 victory over Rayo Vallecano, which marked the first time both he and Inaki had scored in the same match.

Williams' role with Athletic will continue to grow, having only recently become a regular starter for the Basque side towards the end of last season and now starting five of Athletic's six LaLiga matches.

Securing a spot on the plane for Qatar will not be easy considering the vast competition, but Williams may get his opportunity due to his age, with a forward line of the future potentially being created alongside Yeremy Pino and Ferran Torres.

Kenneth Taylor

Only earning his first start for Ajax in the Eredivisie last season, Kenneth Taylor has become a mainstay in the side this term with five starts across six league appearances for the Dutch champions, following Ryan Gravenberch's move to Bayern Munich.

The 20-year-old has grabbed his opportunity with both hands, scoring three goals and contributing two assists in the league. His control on the ball has also been impressive, misplacing 41 of 352 passing attempts in the Eredivisie for an accuracy of 88 per cent.

In the Champions League, Taylor has yet find the net or contribute an assist, but he has caught the eye. In the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool, he won three tackles, the joint-most in the Ajax side, and completed 92 per cent of his passes.

Those performances have earned Taylor a call-up to Louis van Gaal's squad ahead of Gravenberch, who has been capped 10 times by the Netherlands but has found playing time difficult to come by since moving to Bayern.

Enzo Fernandez

Only arriving at Benfica from River Plate ahead of the current season, Enzo Fernandez has quickly made an impression in Portugal, where he was named the Primeira Liga's Midfielder of the Month.

In the third qualifying round of the Champions League, the Argentine struck in both legs against Midtjylland and made a significant impression in the 2-1 group stage win against Juventus – with the most touches (92), pass attempts (71) and accurate passes (68) of his team, as well as the highest pass completion percentage (96%).

He also won 12 duels and won possession on 12 occasions, both tallies that were bettered by none of his team-mates.

His form has already seen him linked with Liverpool, just months after his arrival in European football, and the 21-year-old could be once to watch in Qatar if he secures a seat on the plane.

 

Borja Iglesias

At the age of 29, Borja Iglesias is finally poised to make his international bow with Spain after a sensational calendar year in which he has scored 18 LaLiga goals – with only Real Madrid's Karim Benzema (28) scoring more.

Six of those goals have come in the opening six matches of the 2022-23 season, from which Real Betis have won 15 points to sit behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in the early-season standings.

Robert Lewandowski (8) is the sole player to score more LaLiga goals than Iglesias this season and he has averaged a goal every 103 minutes, though he is yet to feature in the club's Europa League campaign thus far.

Spain's lack of central striking options may well play into Iglesias' hands in his bid to make the World Cup squad, with the 28-man party for September's Nations League fixtures having only Alvaro Morata as the other natural option through the middle.

Roberto Martinez expects Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter training in the next week, but has left him out of Belgium's squad for their upcoming Nations League games as a precaution. 

Lukaku sustained a thigh injury in training at the end of last month, causing him to miss a derby defeat to Milan and Champions League fixtures against Bayern Munich and Viktoria Plzen.

The striker, who is Belgium's record goalscorer with 68 goals in 102 senior caps, also appears doubtful for the Nerazzurri's Serie A tussle with Udinese on Sunday, prompting Martinez to act with caution when selecting his squad for games against Wales and the Netherlands.

"Romelu is making good progress, his recovery is going in the right direction," Martinez said.

"He will probably return to Inter within a week, not calling him was a prudent choice. 

"With Romelu it was important not to risk, because a relapse with an injury of this type would be very risky in view of the World Cup."

Milan's Divock Origi is also absent from Belgium's latest squad after failing to make a Serie A start since completing his move from Liverpool, though fellow Rossoneri newcomer Charles De Ketelaere is in.

Anderlecht defender Zeno Debast is the only uncapped player selected by Martinez, who has picked an experienced 30-man party in a bid to make up a three-point gap to the Netherlands at the top of Group A4.

Belgium squad: Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid), Simon Mignolet (Club Brugge), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Matz Sels (Strasbourg); Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Toby Alderweireld (Antwerp), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund), Jason Denayer (free agent), Dedryck Boyata (Club Brugge), Timothy Castagne (Leicester City), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Brandon Mechele (Club Brugge), Wout Faes (Leicester City), Zeno Debast (Anderlect); Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Youri Tielemans (Leicester City), Eden Hazard (Real Madrid), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid), Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund), Leandro Trossard (Brighton and Hove Albion), Amadou Onana (Everton), Leander Dendoncker (Aston Villa), Hans Vanaken (Club Brugge), Alexis Saelemaekeers (Milan); Dries Mertens (Galatasaray), Michy Batshuayi (Fenerbahce), Charles De Ketelaere (Milan), Dodi Lukebakio (Hertha Berlin), Lois Openda (Lens).

Louis van Gaal's final pre-World Cup Netherlands squad includes three first-time call-ups, including talented Ajax midfielder Kenneth Taylor.

Seven players have been dropped from the provisional squad announced earlier this month, including Bayern Munich midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and Feyenoord goalkeeper Justin Bijlow.

Gravenberch, 20, has not been called-up by Van Gaal since November 2021 and faces a battle to make the squad for Qatar as he instead takes a spot in the Under-21s along with Brian Brobbey and Jeremie Frimpong.

Jordy Clasie, Pascal Struijk and Joey Veerman are the others to be dropped from the provisional selection.

Ajax goalkeeper Remko Pasveer and 20-year-old midfielder Taylor are included for the first time, as is Heerenveen stopper Andries Noppert.

"We have included a number of new players in the squad. For us, this is the last opportunity to see the boys at work, before we have to announce our World Cup selection," Van Gaal said.

"As I have said before, the preparation time for this World Cup is extremely short, so I have to make good use of all available time. After this training camp, we won't get back together until November 14, a week before we play our first game at the World Cup."

The Netherlands will face Poland on September 22 in Warsaw, then hosting Belgium in Amsterdam three days later as the Nations League group stage comes to a close.

Netherlands squad : Jasper Cillessen (NEC), Mark Flekken (Freiburg), Remko Pasveer (Ajax), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen); Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind, Devyne Rensch, Jurrien Timber (all Ajax), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries, Stefan de Vrij (both Inter), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Bruno Martins Indi (AZ); Steven Berghuis, Davy Klaassen, Kenneth Taylor (all Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Teun Koopmeiners, Maren de Roon (both Atalanta); Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Vincent Janssen (Royal Antwerp), Wout Weghorst (Besiktas)

Roma midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum broke his right leg in training on Sunday, just two weeks after joining the club.

The Netherlands international moved earlier this month on a season-long loan from Paris Saint-Germain, with the Serie A side possessing an option to buy.

Wijnaldum won the Ligue 1 title with PSG last term, having joined on a free transfer from Liverpool, but he moved to join Jose Mourinho's side after just a single season with the French giants.

He made his Serie A debut off the bench in Roma's 1-0 victory over Salernitana on the opening weekend but is now set for a stint on the sidelines.

In a statement, Roma said: "Following an injury sustained during training this afternoon, Georginio Wijnaldum subsequently underwent medical tests that confirmed the presence of a fracture to the tibia in his right leg.

"The player will undergo further assessments in the coming days."

Roma continue their campaign at home to Cremonese on Monday, before travelling to Turin to tackle Juventus.

It remains to be seen whether 31-year-old Wijnaldum can recover from his injury in time to feature for the Netherlands at the World Cup, which begins in November.

After plenty of transfer speculation, Ajax have decided to lock up 21-year-old defender Jurrien Timber on an improved contract, adding one extra year to tie him to the club through 2025.

Timber, who already has eight international caps for the Netherlands, has been with Ajax since 2014, and tallied 50 Eredivisie appearances across the past two seasons, netting four goals.

He was one of three Ajax players that Manchester United and former Ajax boss Erik ten Hag showed strong interest in, having secured Lisandro Martinez and being priced out of a move for Antony.

Timber was the recipient of last season's Marco van Basten Award for AFC Ajax Talent of the Year, following in the footsteps of recent winners Ryan Gravenberch, Sergino Dest and Matthijs de Ligt, who all proceeded to leave the Eredivisie in search of bigger challenges.

He will be 24 when his new contract expires, and he will have another chance to impress in the European spotlight this season during Ajax's Champions League campaign.

Matthijs de Ligt insists he did not "attack" Juventus when pointing out the club had underperformed, although he feels he will be better suited to playing for Bayern Munich.

De Ligt left Juve for Bayern ahead of the 2022-23 season, having widely been seen as failing to fulfil his potential in three years in Turin.

The Netherlands centre-back was outstanding in Ajax's run to the 2018-19 Champions League semi-finals, earning a move to Juve, where he faced a battle for his place.

De Ligt started fewer than 30 Serie A matches in each of his three seasons with the Bianconeri.

There was some backlash then when De Ligt, discussing the possibility of a transfer in June, criticised Juve's back-to-back fourth-placed finishes.

Speaking to De Telegraaf on Saturday, De Ligt explained: "In an interview with NOS in June, I said that – as the club itself thinks – to be fourth tw‪ice in a row with Juventus is not good enough.

"That was not an attack on Juventus. Not at all, because I will always have the utmost respect for this club.

"For me, it was just a fact that no one could be satisfied, that the bar had to be raised, including for me. Maybe it came across incorrectly."

De Ligt added he would "never forget" the help he received from his Juve team-mates in his "development as a footballer and as a person".

However, he likened the style of play in Serie A to chess, saying it is "much more tactical".

Now, De Ligt believes both he and Louis van Gaal's Netherlands team can benefit from his move to Bayern, where the approach is more in line with that he learned at Ajax.

"I am very happy that I was able to experience that [at Juve], that I was able to play that way, because I have learned a lot," he said.

"The reason for going to Juventus was also to become a better defender, even though there were differences with the Dutch national team.

"At Juventus, I often had to stay in the position, while at certain times I was required to go [forward] with the Oranje.

"At Bayern, I want to get my Ajax game back again.

"[Bayern coach Julian] Nagelsmann's playing style is much closer to what Louis van Gaal asks of his defenders: defending high, putting high pressure, connecting well and playing forward a lot.

"I think it's a move that can be good for the Dutch national team and my chances, but I did discuss the transfer with [Van Gaal]. He said he had a great time here."

Fans' wait for the World Cup has, of course, been a little longer than normal this time around – ordinarily the tournament would've already been completed.

Nevertheless, the big kick-off is closing in with Qatar 2022 now just 100 days away – we're into the final straight!

As with any major tournament, predicting a winner in the build-up is just a natural part of being a football fan, even if it can often be a fool's errand.

But considering how integral statistics are to football these days, using data might just give you the edge, and that's where Stats Perform come in.

Our Artificial Intelligence team have used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each team's chances of winning the entire tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform World Cup prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances.

It takes into consideration the strength of each team's opponents as well as the difficulty of their respective paths to the final, plus the make-up of the groups and any relevant seedings heading into the knockouts.

Then, the rest of the tournament is simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at the Lusail Stadium on December 18.

Let's check out the results…

FAVOURITES: France (17.9 per cent)

Suspend your disbelief! Yes, reigning champions France have the greatest probability of winning the World Cup this year, with our model giving them an almost 18-per cent chance of clinching a third title.

But let's not overlook how remarkable an achievement that would be. No team has retained the World Cup since Brazil in 1962, and the only other occasion of that happening was in the 1930s when Italy won it back-to-back.

France were the favourites heading into Euro 2020 but were ultimately disappointing – they'll need to do significantly better here otherwise their fate could be sealed by the dreaded winners' curse.

Each of the past four European winners of the World Cup have been eliminated in the group stages, a trend that began with Les Bleus in 2002.

 

2. Brazil (15.7 per cent)

Another unsurprising entry. That's right, record winners Brazil come in at second in terms of likelihood of winning the World Cup.

Tite's side qualified with ease and clearly have an extremely talented group of players available to them – the problem is getting them all on the pitch at one time while retaining a cohesive and balanced shape.

If Tite can find the magic formula at the World Cup this time, at the very least you'd expect them to get beyond the quarter-finals, the stage they crashed out to Belgium four years ago in Kazan.

Failure, however, will mean Brazil's World Cup drought will stretch to 24 years by the time the 2026 edition comes around, and that would make it their joint-longest barren run in the competition since claiming their first title in 1958.

3. Spain (11.5 per cent)

La Roja aren't the force they were as recently as 10 years ago, when they won a third successive major international tournament with victory at Euro 2012.

However, Luis Enrique has turned them into a side that is easy on the eye and capable of carving open the best teams – their main issue in recent years has been finding a reliable striker, and that'll likely be what determines how far they get in Qatar.

Either way, we can surely expect a better showing than they managed in Russia, where they were hindered by the sacking of coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup as a result of accepting a post-tournament role at Real Madrid.

4. England (8.0 per cent)

The Three Lions almost won their first major international trophy since 1966 last year at Euro 2020, only to fall at the final hurdle against Italy.

Either way, few can deny it was a sign of progress: they reached the Russia 2018 semi-finals, the final at Euro 2020, so surely Qatar 2022 is theirs already?

Gareth Southgate has made England an effective tournament side, even if doubts remain over his ability to impose a style of play that sees the Three Lions take the initiative against the biggest teams.

Similarly, their performances in the first round of Nations League fixtures in June left a lot to be desired, but that won't stop expectations from soaring in Qatar.

5. Belgium (7.9 per cent)

Squeezing into the top five ahead of the Netherlands (7.7 per cent) are Belgium, who reached the semi-finals four years ago before being eliminated by eventual winners France.

It's fair to say this is likely to be the last opportunity for the Red Devils' so-called 'golden generation' to truly leave its mark on a major tournament – in fact, many original members of that Belgium generation have already retired.

While success for Roberto Martinez's side looks unlikely, they are a match for any team on their day, and our probability score recognises they are by no means out of contention.

THE REST OF THE FIELD

Netherlands and Germany (7.2) are hard on Belgium's heels in our predictor table, though in both cases fans might feel their squads have more to offer than their neighbours.

Both teams have solid blends of experience and youthful exuberance, while the two coaches have vast experience – Louis van Gaal needs no introduction, while Hansi Flick has been involved in the Germany setup for much of his coaching career.

But the teams many will be looking out for because of certain individuals are Argentina (6.5 per cent) and Portugal (5.1 per cent).

 

They are the only other two to be given more than a 2.3 per cent chance of World Cup success, and given the presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, they cannot be discounted.

Argentina have rebuilt since a somewhat shambolic campaign in Russia, with Lionel Scaloni inspiring La Albiceleste to their first Copa America in 28 years in 2021.

Messi was central to their triumph in that tournament, and now he's got the proverbial monkey off his back, there's hope Argentina could produce a respectable showing.

With Ronaldo 37 and Messi 35, it's unlikely either will play another World Cup. Given the tournament is synonymous with those generally regarded as the best ever – Pele and Diego Maradona – they will be desperate to crown their respective careers.

This is it.

 

10. Croatia (2.3 per cent)
11. Denmark (2.0 per cent)
12. Uruguay (1.5 per cent)
13. Mexico (1.4 per cent)
14. Switzerland (1.0 per cent)
15. Poland (0.8 per cent)
16. Iran (0.6 per cent)
17. Japan (0.5 per cent)
18. United States (0.5 per cent)
19. Wales (0.4 per cent)
20. Qatar (0.4 per cent)
21. South Korea (0.4 per cent)
22. Serbia (0.2 per cent)
23. Senegal (0.2 per cent)
24. Ecuador (0.2 per cent)
25. Australia (0.1 per cent)
26. Ghana (

The European domestic season is now back up and running, meaning we are officially into a World Cup campaign.

For some players, the main focus over the next few months will be remaining fit with the hope of entering Qatar 2022 in peak condition for their respective nations.

For others, the first part of the 2022-23 season will provide an opportunity to play themselves into contention for a squad place ahead of the biggest tournament of them all.

That includes an array of talented stars who have yet to represent their countries at senior level, but who could be given the chance to showcase their talent on the global stage.

With the big kick-off now just 100 days away, Stats Perform has identified five uncapped players who still have an outside shot of glory in Qatar.


Gleison Bremer (Brazil) – 25, centre-back, Juventus

If Bremer was not on the radar of Brazil head coach Tite ahead of the 2021-22 season, the 25-year-old certainly will be now. He ranked first among Serie A defenders last term for duels contested (451) and also led the way for headed clearances (75), showing that he can be relied upon at the back.

Indeed, Bremer's form last time out led to Juventus splashing out a reported €50million to sign him from Torino during the close season. Brazil must be quick, though, as the Italian top-flight's best defender last season is also eligible to represent the Azzurri.

 

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 23, goalkeeper, Lazio

Goalkeeper Maximiano is another who moved to a club of bigger stature just a few months out from the World Cup beginning after swapping relegated Granada, where he impressed in his only campaign, for Serie A side Lazio. The 23-year-old certainly had a chance to showcase his shot-stopping abilities last season, with his 127 saves the most of any keeper in LaLiga, and the fifth-most of anyone in Europe's top five leagues.

Following the departure of long-serving Thomas Strakosha, Maximiano will be installed as first choice at Stadio Olimpico, where Portugal boss Fernando Santos may make a visit or two in the coming months.



Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 22, centre-back, Newcastle United

Despite catching the eye in Ligue 1 with Lille, particularly in 2020-21 when starting 37 of the 38 matches played in their stunning title-winning campaign, Botman has remained on the periphery of the Netherlands squad. He has been a regular for the Oranje at Under-21 level, but after joining Newcastle in a £31.8m (€37m) transfer last month, he is surely now in serious consideration for a place in the senior squad.

Having led the way among Lille players last time out per 90 minutes for successful passes (53.4), blocks (0.84) and headed clearances (2.2), the Dutchman will hope to hit the ground running in another new league.

 

Benjamin Bourigeaud (France) – 28, attacking midfielder, Rennes

Reigning world champions France are blessed with world-class talent right across the pitch, but could there be room for a wild card in the form of Bourigeaud? The versatile attacking midfielder can play in a number of positions, though was predominantly used out on the right in what was a career-best season last time out in Ligue 1.

While France are hardly crying out for another player to slot into the final third, Bourigeaud's 23 direct goal involvements for Rennes last season is a tally bettered by only four others, while his David Beckham-esque deliveries from wide can provide something a little different for Didier Deschamps' men.

 

Inaki Williams (Ghana) – 28, forward, Athletic Bilbao

Ghana's squad has been completely transformed since booking their place in Qatar, having persuaded six players to switch allegiance and represent them at the World Cup. Patric Pfeiffer, Stephen Ambrosius and Ransford-Yeboah Konigsdorffer are all available for selection, as are Inaki Williams, Tariq Lamptey and Mohammed Salisu.

Each of those players will enhance Otto Addo's squad, with Williams – capped once by Spain in a friendly – possibly a game-changing option in attack. He is someone who can be replied upon, too, having appeared in each of Athletic's past 233 LaLiga matches, a run spanning back to April 2016. 

FIFA has confirmed the 2022 World Cup will start a day earlier than originally planned in order to allow hosts Qatar to face Ecuador in the opening match of the tournament.

Qatar had originally been set to open their first World Cup campaign on Monday November 21, with Group A rivals Senegal and the Netherlands scheduled to get the competition under way earlier that day.

But a unanimous decision taken by the Bureau of the FIFA Council means Felix Sanchez's Qatar side will now begin the tournament on Sunday November 20 at 7pm local time – continuing the tradition of the home side playing first.

The opening ceremony has also been brought forward a day to November 20.

"The FIFA World Cup 2022 will kick off with an even greater celebration for local and international fans as host country Qatar will now play Ecuador on Sunday, 20 November as part of a stand-alone event," read a statement issued by FIFA.

"The change ensures the continuity of a long-standing tradition of marking the start of the FIFA World Cup with an opening ceremony on the occasion of the first match featuring either the hosts or the defending champions. 

"The decision followed an assessment of the competition and operational implications, as well as a thorough consultation process and an agreement with key stakeholders and the host country."

 

The decision means the Netherlands' fixture against Senegal has been moved to a later time slot on November 21, and will now follow on from England's Group B opener versus Iran.

The World Cup hosts have featured in the opening match of the tournament since the 2006 edition in Germany, where Jurgen Klinsmann's team beat Costa Rica 4-2.

Between the 1974 and 2002 tournaments, the defending champions opened the tournament, with France infamously going down to Senegal in the last World Cup to follow that tradition.

Robin van Persie has congratulated Manchester United new boy Tyrell Malacia on his move to Old Trafford, predicting the left-back will build a "great connection" with his new club.

Malacia became the first signing of the Erik ten Hag era on Tuesday, signing a four-year contract after United agreed a deal reportedly worth an initial £13m (€15.1m).

The 22-year-old starred during Feyenoord's run to the Europa Conference League final last season, also showcasing his attacking quality by creating 1.1 open-play chances per 90 minutes in his last Eredivisie campaign.

Van Persie, who scored 26 times during United's most recent Premier League title triumph in 2012-13, believes the Netherlands international, who he played alongside after returning to Feyenoord in 2018, will thrive at Old Trafford. 

In a video posted to his Twitter account, Van Persie said: "Tyrell, I would like to congratulate you on your fantastic move to Manchester United, and this big moment in your career.

"You've shown that with self-belief, talent, and hard work, day in, day out, that dreams come true.

"To all Red Devils fans, you're not only getting a very talented full-back, but as well, a fantastic person.

"Be nice to him, support him in good times and bad, and he will give absolutely everything for you guys. I'm sure it will be a great connection together.

"On behalf of Feyenoord fans and Feyenoord people, thanks Tyrell for what you've done, for all these years from a young kid up until now, this fantastic moment. You are a true example for the next generation."

Upon his unveiling as a United player, Malacia revealed Van Persie's tales of his own time in Manchester had influenced his move, telling the club's website: "I spoke in the past with Robin and I played with him, and spoke with him about his experience in Manchester.

"Everything was good. He says they're the biggest club and the feeling was good, and he loved it here."

Malacia is expected to compete with Luke Shaw for game-time under Ten Hag, and could make his Premier League debut when United host Brighton and Hove Albion on August 7.

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of not supporting their new manager, Erik ten Hag, given the players they're going for in the transfer market.

Granted, that's more about how United are primarily being linked with players Ten Hag knows or has previously coached rather than them targeting a host of renowned superstars.

Whether that suggests a certain trust in Ten Hag or if it comes down to a lack of belief in the club's own scouting department is a discussion for another time, but clearly Ten Hag is being allowed to build a team in his image, and that's what many fans will have hoped for.

The first one in through the door is Tyrell Malacia, who joins from Eredivisie side Feyenoord on a four-year   contract with an option for a further season.

Netherlands international Malacia had apparently been close to joining Lyon until United came in at the last minute, but once the Red Devils' interest became apparent, there was only likely to be one destination: Old Trafford.

But what sort of player are United getting? Stats Perform takes a look…

Exit looming for Telles?

When considering the areas United needed to strengthen ahead of the new season, left-back might not have been highlighted as a major cause for concern, therefore some are likely to feel Malacia's signing isn't necessary.

But most would agree Luke Shaw endured a generally poor season, and his deputy – Alex Telles – seemingly wasn't good enough to fully dislodge the England international. Then you have Brandon Williams, who has returned from a loan spell at Norwich City but will in all likelihood be sold.

One would assume Malacia's arrival will lead to another sale at left-back as well, and that'll presumably be Telles rather than Shaw, who will be expected to get back to the level he showed in the 2020-21 season.

Shaw has responded well to competition before. In fact, his excellent 2020-21 campaign coincided with United's signing of Telles, but perhaps he took his foot off the pedal once he realised the Brazilian wasn't likely to be a long-term threat to his place.

Malacia could be.

 

At 22, Malacia is youthful and boasts a skillset that may make him a greater understudy – and challenger – to Shaw than Telles.

Already a Netherlands international, Malacia is quick, comfortable on the ball and had an impressive output in attack last season. Telles, on the other hand, isn't especially fast and his final-third threat relies on crosses from deep.

Full-backs performed an important function for Ten Hag's Ajax. Their underlapping runs make them potential threats in the box, while those at his disposal in Amsterdam possessed excellent technical abilities, helping the team to maintain control of possession even out wide, a little like at Manchester City.

Such a role certainly shouldn't faze Malacia considering his pace and technique.
 

A considered threat

Malacia's technical ability and speed are probably his two most obvious attributes, though neither are especially easy to prove with numbers.

Of course, it's difficult to accurately – and fairly – compare players across two hugely different competitions just using stats, but you can at least get an idea of what a player offers.

Malacia's 1.1 open-play chances created every 90 minutes in the Eredivisie last season was the 10th highest among defenders (minimum of 1,000 minutes played). That was the same as Shaw's, though the latter was obviously playing in a league generally regarded to be a higher level.

 

Despite that frequency not being especially remarkable, Malacia did lay on four assists, and his 6.0 expected assists (xA) was bettered by only four Eredivisie defenders.

So although he wasn't necessarily creating a huge amount of opportunities, those he did craft had an average xA value of 0.16 – of the defenders with at least 18 key passes, only Daley Blind (0.27), Noussair Mazraoui (0.19) and Yukinari Sugawara (0.17) created better chances on average.

Similarly, Malacia's xA output on a per-90-minute basis of 0.19 was higher than that of Shaw (0.14) and Telles (0.11).

Both of the xA averages mentioned for Malacia highlight – and can be partly explained by – how he attacks. He recorded 2.7 touches in the opposition's box every 90 minutes last term (fifth among Eredivisie defenders), whereas Shaw (1.1) and Telles (1.0) were far less willing to get into that area.

As such, of his 5.0 passes into the box each game, only 3.0 were crosses. Those respective figures for Shaw (5.9/5.7) and Telles (7.6/7.3) show a far greater reliance on hopeful crosses.

 

Again, specific coaching instructions may explain the figures of Shaw and Telles, so the data isn't suggesting any one is better than the others, but it's still easy to see why Ten Hag might feel Malacia is a good fit as one of his underlapping full-backs.

Malacia also tallied more tackle attempts (2.7), tackles won (1.8) and duels (11.0) compared to Shaw (1.1, 0.7 and 8.2) and Telles (2.4, 1.3 and 9.8).

As before, these don't necessarily mean he's a better defender because the context of the two leagues and the respective teams' playing styles make it difficult to draw such conclusions, but Malacia's figures do at least point to a certain level of tenacity off the ball.

Regardless of the numbers, it seems clear United are taking a bit of a gamble with Malacia. Although obviously talented, he is young, inexperienced and joining a team that cannot claim to have much stability.

Nothing about United over the past decade has suggested it's a club that successfully nurtures young players anymore. Even when you look at the success stories such as Marcus Rashford, he's not appeared happy for a while.

The fact Malacia has seemingly been signed upon the request of his manager – rather than a glorified accountant on the board – is undoubtedly a tick in the pros column, but only time will tell if that trust in Ten Hag is well-placed.

Manchester United have agreed a deal to sign Feyenoord left-back Tyrell Malacia, according to the Eredivisie club's director Frank Arneson.

Lyon had been linked with a move for Malacia, but United have reportedly agreed to a deal worth an initial £12.9million (€15m).

Having come through the youth system, Malacia has played 136 games for Feyenoord, making 50 appearances in all competitions last season as Arne Slot's men finished third in the Eredivisie and reached the Europa Conference League final.

Speaking to 1908NL, Arneson said all that remains is for the 22-year-old to agree personal terms with the Red Devils, revealing: "The agreement with Man United is there. We are now waiting for Tyrell.

"If Malacia says yes, then a transfer to Manchester United is imminent."

Malacia made his senior debut for the Netherlands last September and has since won a further four caps for his country.

Only two Feyenoord players made more appearances in all competitions than Malacia last term, winger Bryan Linssen (53) and midfielder Orkun Kokcu (51), with the young full-back featuring in 17 of their Europa Conference League contests.

The addition of Malacia would represent new United boss Erik ten Hag's first move to strengthen a defence which conceded 57 Premier League goals last campaign.

United returned for pre-season training this week as they build towards Ten Hag's first competitive match in charge, a Premier League trip to Brighton and Hove Albion on August 7.

Ruud van Nistelrooy revealed he could not have imagined enjoying coaching more than playing but in his first week as PSV Eindhoven boss, insisted the responsibility of match preparation and coaching has "hooked" him.

A decade removed from his last playing stint at Malaga, the 45-year-old confirmed a first senior coaching role with his former club in March, after roles in their youth categories and as assistant for the Netherlands national team.

Taking over from Roger Schmidt, whose side took Ajax to the final day of the Eredivisie season last term, Van Nistelrooy has been given three seasons to supplant the Amsterdam club's domestic dominance in the Netherlands.

In the first week of pre-season, the former Netherlands international asserted he was fully committed to preparing for this first senior role and can now only see himself as a football coach, despite initially different sentiments.

"Never. I could not have imagined it, and if they had told me when I was playing football I wouldn't have believed it," Van Nistelrooy told Marca. "Time passes, and the truth is that I could not imagine a life without football. When I left I began to think about what to do and I wanted to continue to be linked to football.

"It was necessary to see in what area and the reality is that I began to study, to train myself and I noticed that each day that passed, I had more enthusiasm. Then I started working in lower categories, with young players and I really liked that work. That is what has brought me here with such enthusiasm.

"Training is something that hooked me. It is an interesting process that I have lived to get here. Logically, I still have to take many steps, but I am excited about the opportunity that PSV gives me, which is a club in which I played, in which I feel at home, very identified."

Van Nistelrooy had a variety of coaches during his professional playing days and under varied styles, from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, to Fabio Capello, Bernd Schuster and Manuel Pellegrini, playing under the latter at both Real Madrid and Malaga.

The PSV boss asserted he remains deeply rooted in the Dutch way of football, however, and his setup in Eindhoven will ultimately reflect his own interpretation of what he learned under the likes of Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink.

"What I could see in my time as a footballer is that there are coaches who had more influence than others in the game and in the team. That's normal," he said. "I've had coaches like Ferguson, Pellegrini or Van Gaal, from whom I think I can take a lot of things. I also really like the school in my country, the Dutch school, that way of understanding football and the game goes a lot with my idea.

"My system is a 4-3-3. I like to play with a six and with two midfielders who go up, with an eight and a 10, let's say. And then two wide wingers. Logically, it all depends on the players you have, on their characteristics. Then you always have to make modifications, adaptations, but my idea of ​​the game is that."

He added, however, that any ambition he has as a senior coach can only exist with success at PSV.

"My head is only at PSV, I just started here," Van Nistelrooy said. "I have trained very well here and I have signed a contract for the next three years.

"The project that both the club and I have in mind is long-term, as long as things go the way we think they will. I want to build something beautiful and important here, with a good project, with young and quality players."

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