Have locker-room politics cost Manchester City the chance to sign Alexis Sanchez?

Have locker-room politics cost Manchester City the chance to sign Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal?

City were the clear favourites to land the Chilean, who is set to leave the Gunners in the current transfer window, but on Monday the club stated that they have pulled out of the race.

This leaves Manchester United with a clear run to sign the 29-year-old, though Chelsea are also in contention.

The Times reports that the breaking point for City was Sanchez’s personal demands. The striker wants a salary of over GBP20-million, which would make him the highest paid player in English football history.

The problem facing City was Kevin de Bruyne and his new contract negotiations. There were concerns De Bruyne and several other senior City players would immediately be demanding pay increases to fall in line with Sanchez’s record salary.

Meanwhile, United’s hopes of landing Sanchez may hinge on Henrikh Mkhitaryan. If the Armenian is keen on a switch to Arsenal, then he will be used as a ‘makeweight’ in a deal between the clubs.

Real Madrid is f***ed up, according to manager Zinedine Zidane

Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane says the club is “f***ed up” after suffering another poor result in La Liga this past weekend.

Real lost 1-0 at home to Villarreal at Saturday to see remain in fourth place on the standings. They are a full 19 points adrift of leaders and arch rivals Barcelona.

After guiding ‘Los Blancos’ to a La Liga and Champions League double last season, ‘Zizou’ is coming under increasing pressure at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“It’s very difficult for the confidence,” said Zidane. “We had chances to score but in the end… we couldn’t avoid the counter and… it’s just very f***ed up for all the players.”

The loss leaves Villarreal just a point behind Real Madrid in fifth place, and Zidane admits times are becoming desperate for his side.

“We have to get a win from somewhere,” he added. “We know the situation and every day it gets more complicated, so we are not even thinking about the League, just about the next match.”

Real will be back in league action on Sunday when they hosts strugglers Deportivo La Coruna.

Zinedine Zidane

Philippe Coutinho asks for Liverpool fans’ understanding following Barcelona switch

Philippe Coutinho has asked for the understanding of Liverpool fans following his £142million switch to Spanish giants Barcelona.

The 25-year-old Brazilians became the second most expensive transfer of all time when he swapped Anfield for the Camp Nou this past weekend

He has since posted a message to Reds supporters on his Instagram account.

“Since the moment I arrived in Liverpool, me and my family have been made to feel so welcome and have made so many friends,” he wrote.

“On the pitch and off the pitch, we have experienced the beauty of this club and its fans. In turn, I hope I have delivered memories and moments that have brought happiness to the Liverpool supporters.

“Moving to Liverpool, I knew the club’s greatness and history but what I did learn during my time was the unique heart and soul of the place. It has its own personality and character.

“I leave Liverpool because Barcelona is a dream for me. Liverpool was a dream that I was fortunate enough to realise and I have given five years of my life to it.

“A career on the pitch only lasts for so long and to play for Barcelona as well as Liverpool is something I want to experience and enjoy while I am blessed enough to be able to do so.

“I hope the supporters understand that choosing to experience something new is not about diminishing their importance to me or the club’s importance. Nothing will ever diminish that in my heart.

“I wish Jurgen (Klopp) and the team nothing but joy and success for the rest of this season and beyond. This is an amazing team and they are getting better and better all the time.

“I can never thank you enough for what you have given me during this time and no matter where I go in the world, for the rest of my life, I will always cherish Liverpool in my heart. You, the club and the city will always be a part of me.”

Philippe Coutinho

Are Real Madrid already out of La Liga’s title race? Marcelo says they’re ‘sinking’

Spanish and European champions Real Madrid appear to be out of the running in the La Liga title race after they were held 2-2 by Celta Vigo on Sunday night.

This result, which followed on from their 0-3 loss to arch rivals and current log leaders Barcelona last month, left ‘Los Blancos’ a full 16 points off the top (though they have one game in hand).

"It is how it looks from the outside - we are sad, angry and we feel like we are sinking," Marcelo told reporters after the match, which saw Real allow a lead to slip away.

"It is one of the worst situations I've experienced here," added the Brazilian defender, who has been with the club for over a decade.

"We'll try to work hard and fight so we can win our next game but we don't like this situation at all, it's difficult because the more games you draw or lose the more pressure you are under."

Real Madrid have not been this far behind the Liga leaders since 2012/13, which was Jose Mourinho’s last in charge of the club. They ended up 15 points adrift of champions Barcelona in that campaign.

"There's nothing else we can do other than keep our heads up and fight and do our best to start winning again," added Marcelo, who has won four La Liga and three Champions League titles since joining Real in 2007.

"We can't do anything more, we're trying to play good football, to move the ball around and score goals but it's not coming off."

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane condemned his side’s display, but stopped short of saying they were out of the title race.

"The main thing we lacked today was we didn't play the second half," said the Frenchman. "We played very well in the first 45 minutes but not in the second half and a game lasts 90 minutes."

He added, "We're not going to talk about the league every weekend. If we keep losing points we're not going to get there. We have to focus on each game now and try to win them.”

Zidane coach of Real Madrid

Is Virgil van Dijk the solution to Liverpool’s defensive problems?

Under manager Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s defence has been their Achilles Heel - the weakness which has prevented them from competing with England’s top teams.

Yet in this transfer window the Reds took what they hope will be a major step towards addressing the issue, by paying a world record fee of GBP 75-million to sign Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk from Southampton.

The early signs are good, with the 26-year-old giving a fine performance - which included scoring the decisive goal - on debut in Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup on Friday night.

Klopp believes van Dijk will get even better as he settles into life at Anfield: “Fairytale in a world with not a lot of fairytales anymore, so I think something like that is quite special," said the Liverpool boss.

"It was a difficult decision to make to be honest because, to be 100 percent honest, the first plan was not to start him but then Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan played a lot of games in the last few weeks, so I changed my mind.

"It was a big fight, it was not brilliant football, it was not the most beauty – it was how cup games should be. It is not about who is the better side, who can do this or that. Things like this can happen sometimes, but it is pretty rare."

Klopp added, "He showed a lot of things we want him to show in the future very often. Heading of course, football-wise his first touch was good, good under pressure and then around set pieces a proper threat.”

Van Dijk is set to have a more stringent test of his abilities when Liverpool host runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City on Sunday evening.

Pep Guardiola – Festive season going to “kill the players”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola believes the busy festive-season schedule in England is going to “kill the players”.

The Spaniard saw his side return to winning form on Tuesday night as they defeated Watford 3-1 to continue their dominance of the Premier League.

Guardiola made five changes to the team which drew 0-0 at Crystal Palace this past weekend and believes the busy schedule at this time ultimately devalues the quality of football on show.

“We played really well,” Guardiola told the BBC. “After dropping two points, we spoke about our reaction because big teams drop points but not too much.

“We made five changes from the last game but it’s not our fault. I know here in England the show must go on, but that’s not normal guys. The big bosses should reflect that.

“We’re going to kill the players. The federations don’t think about the players but they have to. They play 11 months in a row. They have to protect them and play with quality and not quality. We have to think about the artists. But I know it won’t happen.

“Watford scored because they have good players. We will review the action but people cannot expect us to win 7-0 every time.”

City will be in action again on Saturday when they host Burnley in the FA Cup.

Pep Guardiola

Jose Mourinho speaks ahead of today’s Manchester derby

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has spoken of how he wants his team to approach today’s derby clash with Manchester City at Old Trafford.

United will have to cope with the absence of key midfielder Paul Pogba, who was sent off in last weekend’s win at Arsenal and will miss three domestic matches through suspension.

While the Portuguese coach is understandably keeping his starting XI a secret, he has hinted at how his team will approach the task of stopping Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten side at Old Trafford.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s derby, he explained: “I think you all want to know how we are going to play. Everyone connected with football professionally or as a fan has those questions: Who do we play? Who is going to play? How are we going to try to play? I’m not going to tell.

“Even the players, they do not know who is going to play. We are working on principles of play. I want every player to be connected with it and ready for it.

“With the problems we have with absences it is important that other players are ready to play or be on the bench and come on and to have different roles than they are used to.

“So the work was much more global than the specificity of the 11 players who are going to start. I don’t want us to feel any kind of pressure. I want us to feel it as a match like we are going to have another one or two days later against Bournemouth.

“We want to win, we want to play well, we are going to try and let’s see the direction of the game.”

United and City will meet in a top-of-the-table Premier League clash this evening, kick-off at 6.15pm CAT.

Jurgen Klopp: No one knows that will happen with Coutinho in January

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has refused to offer any assurances that his side will be able to keep a hold of Philippe Coutinho in the upcoming transfer window.

The Brazilian attacker was a major target for Spanish giants Barcelona and it is rumoured that they will try to sign the player again when the window re-opens next month.

Coutinho put in a transfer request which was refused by the Reds, who also turned down several big-money offers from Barca.

In the lead up to tonight’s UEFA Champions League match against Spartak Moscow, Klopp was asked about Coutinho’s future at the club, but he dismissed the question.

“Nothing – but I don’t think about it, I think about the Moscow game,” he said.

“Not one second have I thought about that so far. I am not unsure, I am not sure, I don’t think about it.

“No one knows what will happen in the ‘nice and calm’ January transfer window. It’s nice from an outside view but I have absolutely nothing to say.”


Jose Mourinho: David de Gea the best goalkeeper in the world

Following his superb performance against Arsenal on Saturday night, Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea has received praise from manager Jose Mourinho.

The Red Devils’ ‘keeper pulled off an incredible 14 saves to help his side defeat the Gunners 3-1 at the Emirates.

Jesse Lingard and Antonio Valencia shared the three goals between them, but there was no doubt that the Spanish gloves-man was the key man in the United victory.

“I loved the way my team played and fought. Arsenal played in some period amazing attacking football – creating difficulties for us,” explained Mourinho after the match.

“But I have to say that my players deserve all the great words. I don’t know so many in English but amazing, phenomenal, fantastic. They deserved three points.

“The plan was when they had the ball we all had to defend – starting with attacking players and when we had the ball we had to counter attack fast and try to score goals which we did. They had chances but we fought and we have a great goalkeeper too.”

When asked about De Gea’s performance, he said: “I told him after the match, what I saw today was the best from a goalkeeper in the world.

“You need the keeper to be there for you when the team needs. All the effort from the players was magnificent. The game, we started in one way and they started in another, then we changed and went down to 10 men and changed again.”

Paul Pogba was sent off for a challenge on Hector Bellerin on 74 minutes and Mourinho was typically cryptic in his assessment of the incident.

“I don’t know,” the Portuguese said. “I leave for you that one. I leave for you the Lukaku situation with Koscielny, I leave for you the Arsenal players on the grass. The grass is absolutely beautiful – I think there is a desire to go onto the grass.”

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea

Antonio Conte backs Eden Hazard, but admits he is ‘worried’ by Manchester City

Chelsea coach Antonio Conte has backed Eden Hazard to lead his side to a string of fine results, but admits he is worried by the gap to Premier League leaders Manchester City.

The reigning champions are 11 points adrift of City following Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Liverpool and must put together a strong run through the busy December period if they are to have any hope of retaining their title.

Key to this aim is Belgian attacking midfielder Hazard, who has shown flashes of his best form in recent matches and adds a versatility to Chelsea’s attack that is a major help to Conte.

"The start of this season was full of trouble with Eden because he had an injury with the national team and we started the season without him," the Italian manager explained.

"Now I think Eden is in really good form and I think he likes to play as a striker. There is a good link with Alvaro [Morata] and for me also it's a great opportunity to play with two different systems."

Yet Conte admits concern at the form of City, who have racked up an 11-game winning streak and look capable of easing to the championship.

"I think Manchester City in this season is a strong team. Also last season, Manchester City was a fantastic team. Then, after the transfer market, they bought their first targets and then they have improved a lot,” he said.

"They can do this also in January maybe, in the future. For this reason we must be worried.”

Eden Hazard of Chelsea goes pass a player

A lack of luck, or are Liverpool incapable of defending a lead?

Jurgen Klopp has bemoaned his side’s lack of luck after their 1-1 draw with Chelsea on Saturday evening, but the German coach should be giving his defence greater scrutiny after again relinquishing a lead.

The Reds threw away a 3-0 advantage in the UEFA Champions League last midweek to be held 3-3 by Sevilla, while against Chelsea they led 1-0 thanks to Mohamed Salah’s strike against his former club, only for Willian’s misplaced cross to drift into the top corner and earn a share of the spoils for the Blues.

"I think I need a little bit of time to be happy," said Klopp. "I'm happy about the performance, how we took the game. It's a little bit more difficult when Chelsea played with eight defenders more or less.

"After a week like this (long trips away in the Champions League) we have both had, it was one of the better draws I've seen in my life.

"You need a bit of luck and we didn't have it again. We wanted to change the system before the equaliser and the referee didn't allow us."

Luck plays a bigger role in professional sports than most would care to admit, but when your side twice gives up a lead in high-profile clashes you should look for the reasons behind this failure, rather than assign it to the vagaries of fortune.

Unless Klopp can deal with Liverpool’s Achilles Heel, they’ll remain hopefuls rather than contenders.

Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp

Manchester United should have got Guardiola instead of Mourinho – Eric Cantona

Manchester United legend Eric Cantona believes Pep Guardiola would have been a “more logical” choice to be the club’s manager, rather than Jose Mourinho.

Cantona, who epitomised the attacking verve of the ‘Red Devils’ when they established themselves as the dominant English team under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1990s, believes Mourinho’s more defensive approach isn’t quite right for Old Trafford.

"I cannot understand why United would take a manager who plays in a defensive way. I love Mourinho, but I prefer to watch Barcelona play," Cantona told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I prefer the way Guardiola plays, and I would prefer him as manager of Manchester United, it's more logical. I don't watch Man City because it's Man City but I would love to watch the team managed by Guardiola."

Cantona added, "He (Mourinho) has a lot of charisma, has won a lot of things and will win a lot of things. But, the football I played, and Alex Ferguson played, Matt Busby before, it was creative.

"I loved (Johan) Cruyff when he was manager at Barcelona, I loved Ajax in the 1970s, I grew up with this kind of football and the football we played with Ferguson was very creative and more Manchester United.

"It's why I prefer the way Guardiola plays and I would prefer to have him as manager of Manchester United."

Guardiola and Mourinho

Why Antoine Griezmann may say no to Manchester United

Having been linked with a move to Manchester United for ages, Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann has revealed why he might turn down a transfer to Old Trafford.

And it’s the weather. Yup, the French attacker doesn’t want to live where it tends to rain quite a lot.

To be fair, he hasn’t totally ruled out a move to the Red Devils, but his tone is that of a player who doesn’t want to leave Atletico. Or has his eye on a move to Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, etc.

“I have nothing against England, apart from the weather, Manchester United is a possibility,” the Les Bleus attacker said in his upcoming biography.

“In June 2017 I prolonged my contract. I am tied to the club until 2022. While I have everything to be happy, this doesn’t mean I won’t leave one day.

“I have not made a decision. It all depends on several factors. As much as I repeat that I am delighted at Atletico, I have a great coach and great teammates, they regularly ask me about my future. I do not exclude anything.”


Antonio Conte unhappy with fixture schedule ahead of ‘manic month’ for Chelsea

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has taken issue with the way the Premier League plans its fixtures as he takes his team into what promises to be a ‘manic month’ of matches.

The Blues claimed a comfortable 4-0 win away to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, which was the first of nine matches in a month across all competitions.

Conte is particularly worried about the short turnaround time between matches in the Champions League and Premier League.

He pointed out that they lost a crucial domestic match against Manchester City soon after an impressive away win over Atletico Madrid in Europe, and he fears the same scenario could play out in the next week as they face Qarabag away on Wednesday before travelling to Liverpool for a massive clash on Saturday.

"It was a pity to play against Manchester City only two days after we played Atletico Madrid away," Conte explained.

"We came back at 5:00 am on Thursday and played on Saturday against Manchester City. Sometimes, the people who prepare these type of fixtures must pay more attention to give every team the same possibility.

"I think against Manchester City they were favourites and we stayed very close but if we won against Manchester City the distance is not nine points.

“Now we have another problem. We play Qarabag on Wednesday, we get back to London at 5:00 am then we have another big game against Liverpool on Saturday.

"Is this normal? I don't think so. If someone wants more balance in this league they must pay greater attention to preparing the fixtures."

Despite back-to-back failures against Roma in the Champions League, Chelsea can book their spot in the knockout rounds with victory in Azerbaijan against Qarabag.

"It was very important for us to start this very busy period with a good win, especially against West Brom because last season we struggled a lot in both games," said Conte.

"Today the game became easy because we started very well with great concentration and focus.

"This (Qarabag) will be the most important game of the season because we have a possibility with a win to go through to the next round of the Champions League, so to start our path in this way was very positive."

Chelsea's head coach Antonio Conte

Roberto Carlos: Neymar can lead Brazil to 2018 World Cup glory

Former Brazil defender Roberto Carlos says Neymar can lead the national team to glory at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Brazil were embarrassed by Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 tournament on home soil, suffering a massive 7-1 defeat at the hands of the eventual champions.

Carlos, who helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, believes the ‘Selecao’ have recovered from that humiliating low and will challenge for the trophy next year.

"The team has been reorganised since the debacle against Germany and we also have a new coach in Tite, hence I am confident the situation has vastly improved," the former Real Madrid defender told a news conference in Serbia's capital.

“We have world class players and team leaders in Neymar, Willian and Thiago Silva. They are experienced and I am confident that Brazil have it in them to win the World Cup.

"As a Brazilian, naturally I want Brazil to win the World Cup. But (world champions) Germany, Spain and Argentina will also be among the top favourites and it will take a lot of hard work to capture the title."

Carlos added that Neymar was right to move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in a colossal transfer earlier this year.

"I expect Neymar to become the world's best player very soon," he said. "There is a lot of debate going on whether he should have moved to Paris St Germain from Barcelona and I think he did the right thing.

"It was his personal decision and I think it will be easier for him to flourish at PSG, whereas that was more complicated with Lionel Messi at Barcelona or would have been at Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo. At PSG, he is the benchmark.

"He is a great person too, I am in touch with him regularly and I am also convinced he will have an outstanding World Cup."


Football and dementia: a crisis waiting to explode?

Former England striker Alan Shearer has called for more investigation into potential links between heading a football and dementia.

Shearer, who was renowned as a great header of the ball during his career, took part in a BBC documentary titled ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ to examine the effects he may have sustained.

The 47-year-old interviewed families of footballers affected by dementia and underwent various studies, while also looking at the brains of people who have suffered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from all walks of life.

Speaking on the documentary, Shearer said: “Never ever did I think that heading a football could be dangerous for me.

“There are 850,000 people in our country that are suffering from dementia, and there are a lot of footballers who are in those numbers. But… we don’t know how many and that can’t be right.

“We started the research in 2002, it’s now 2017 and it seems like we are no further forward because the same questions are still being asked.

“There’s enough money around nowadays in football, just not enough of it has been given to research. It’s about time we had more definitive answers.”

The chief executive of the players’ union, Gordon Taylor, admitted he did not know the extent of dementia amongst former players, but would like to see greater support systems for sufferers.

He said: “I think it is the PFA’s job to look and provide support. We have said money is going to be put towards research and also respite care.

“Football has a duty to see if there is a causal link, because if there is, it could significantly increase the problems in later life then we need to look at the rules of the game and address it.”

Augsburg's Daniel Opare (L) jumps for a header with Leverkusen's Wendell during the German Bundesliga soccer match between FC Augsburg and Bayer Leverkusen at WWK Arena in Augsburg, Germany, 04 November 2017. EPA/DANIEL KOPATSCH