Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Arsenal preparing £60 million offer for Lyon's Nabil Fekir

With the January window on the horizon, there's plenty brewing in the transfer market. All the latest deals and potential deals can be found here.

Gunners in big-money move for Fekir

Arsenal could be heading towards a £60 million swoop for Lyon's Nabil Fekir but may face competition from Barcelona, according to the Mail.

It reports that the Gunners "are deep in discussions about a move for the France international," who has scored 11 club goals this season.

They hope the 24-year-old can be reunited with ex-Lyon colleague Alexandre Lacazette at the Emirates Stadium amid continuing uncertainty over the futures of both Alexis Sanchezand Mesut Ozil.

The fly in the ointment, the Mail warns, is that Barcelona may yet attempt to bring Fekir to the Camp Nou.

However, it says that will only happen "if they are unable to push through a deal for Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho."

Spurs keen on Watford's Richarlison

Watford have made a fine start to the season with Brazilian attacker Richarlison at the heart of it, and the Mirror reports that he is already attracting attention.

It says Tottenham Hotspur "are keeping tabs" on the 20-year-old, with their scouts "regulars at Watford games."

Richarlison has scored four Premier League goals so far, giving the Hornets a new dimension with his speed and flair.

And the Mirror says he "possesses the pace, goal threat and versatility in attacking positions that Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is keen to add to his squad."

However, the Brazil Under-20 international -- who signed a five-year deal when he moved from Fluminense in the summer -- has told ESPN he wants to "write history at Watford and be remembered by the crowd."

United 'ready to bid for Forsberg'

The RB Leipzig hierarchy were none too impressed when summer speculation linked Emil Forsberg with Liverpool, AC Milan and Arsenal.

So they probably won't be too thrilled to find the Mirror reporting that you can add Manchester United to the list of those interested in the Sweden international.

It says United boss Jose Mourinho watched winger Forsberg in action as Sweden beat Italy in their World Cup playoff first leg last week.

And Mourinho was so impressed that he is "weighing up a move to take the flier to Old Trafford" in the winter window.

- Championship duo Aston Villa and Hull City are keen to bring in Leicester forward Ahmed Musa when the window reopens, according to the Birmingham Mail.

Musa, who cost Leicester around £16m when he arrived last summer, has struggled for regular first-team opportunities and started only one game, in the Carabao Cup, this season.

- Staying in the Midlands, the Express and Star reports that Liverpool are casting an eye to the future as they consider a move for teenage Wolves midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White.

It says the Merseysiders "are ready to spend £5m" on the 17-year-old, who helped England win the Under-17 World Cup earlier this year, but adds that "both Arsenal and Tottenham are also thought to be interested" in signing him.

Three things to look out for when Nigeria face Argentina

Few countries, especially those from different continents, have met each other more than Nigeria and Argentina.

They have met at Under-17, Under-20, Under-23 and senior level, dating back to 1993 when Nigeria's U17s played Argentina for the first time.

A year later, the senior sides met at the 1994 World Cup and have clashed a total of six times since.

Here are a few things to look forward to in Tuesday's meeting in Krasnodar:

Landmark match for Mikel

Rested for Friday's 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw against Algeria, skipper John Mikel Obi is expected to return to the lineup against Argentina.

Mikel first played against the South Americans at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup Final, where he squared up to and lost against a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, emerging with the silver ball behind the then-budding Argentina icon.

Mikel again lost to the Albiceleste at 2008 Olympic Games Final, but found some joy when he played in the side that beat them 4-1 in a friendly game in Abuja in 2011.

That joy was temporary, as the Argentinians claimed revenge a few months later in Bangladesh, routing Nigeria 3-1 in Dhaka. Mikel captained the Super Eagles for the first time that day in the absence of regular skipper Joseph Yobo.

On Tuesday, Mikel will mark another landmark when he leads the Super Eagles out, this time, as substantive captain.

It will be his 80th official appearance for Nigeria, making him only the fifth player to reach that milestone for Nigeria.

Others are Musa Lawal (86), Nwankwo Kanu (86), Joseph Yobo (100) and Vincent Enyeama (101).

Musa could add to Argentina goals

It has been a torrid 18 months for Ahmed Musa since leaving Russia. A fan favourite during his years at CSKA Moscow, Musa has fallen on hard times since leaving them for former Premier League champions Leicester City.

The forward has barely featured for his new employers, and with competition growing in his wide forward position, could be in real danger of losing his squad place when the Super Eagles return to his former stomping grounds in http://kwese.com/how-to-get-kweseabout seven months' time.

Ironically, he is one of five Nigeria players who can boast of having scored against Argentina at senior level. The others being Samson Siasia, Ikechukwu Uche, Obinna Nsofor and Emmanuel Emenike.

Of that group, Musa and Uche stand out as the only two to have scored a brace, and Musa scored his at the World Cup.

Returning to Russia, and hopefully getting a chance to play more than a cameo role, should inspire the forward to regain some of the form he has lost in the last year and make it harder for competitors trying to wrest his World Cup spot.

Maybe with another brace?

Rohr's growing legend

Like Clemens Westerhof before him, Gernot Rohr came into Nigeria under-promising, but has seemingly over-delivered.

This friendly against Argentina gives the coach one additional opportunity to script even more legend into his story, by becoming only the second Nigeria coach to defeat Argentina - if he can manage it.

If he does, he would also be the first to beat them away from home.

One thing is for certain, Rohr's legend will certainly grow if he can mastermind a win against Messi and co.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Gianluigi Buffon remains positive after Italy's failure to reach World Cup

Italy's legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon struggled to fight back tears but remained positive about the future as he tried to come to terms with Italy's failure to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 60 years.

Italy's 0-0 draw against Sweden at Milan's San Siro ensured there would be no Squadra Azzurra in Russia next summer, and no record sixth World Cup for Buffon.

The four-time champions had been present at every World Cup since 1958 -- and Buffon himself since 1998 -- and the 39-year-old's retirement from international football was made prematurely on Monday night.

"I'm sorry -- and not just for me, but for everybody involved," Buffon told RAI. "We've failed something which could have been big also on a social level and this is my only disappointment.

"I'm sorry that my final game coincided with us not qualifying for the World Cup."

Buffon felt that luck had not gone Italy's way, but he said that they could have no excuses.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game and in the end, it was decided on an incident. They got the breaks and we didn't, but when things don't go your way, then you probably also have some blame too."

However, Buffon refused to pin that blame solely on coach Gian Piero Ventura, who reports said handed in his resignation after he refused to speak to RAI following the final whistle.

"Sport is about winning and losing together," Buffon said. "He's got as much blame as all of us have. I'd like to wish these lads all the very best of luck. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough, but I hope at least we can take some benefit out of this as an example.

"I want to give a big hug to everybody who has always supported me, like Chiello [Giorgio Chiellini], Barza [Andrea Barzagli], Leo [Bonucci], Lele [Gabriele Oriali, team manager] and everybody who's shared these past 10 years with me.

"I leave behind a national team who have got quality and will have people talking about them, from Gigio Donnarumma to [Mattia] Perin -- I'm sure they will ensure I am not missed.

"There is still a future for our football. We are a proud, stubborn and hard-working nation and we always find a way of lifting ourselves up after bad falls."

After joining Italy as an unused substitute at the 1998 World Cup, Buffon made his World Cup debut in 2002, then helped Italy lift the trophy at Germany 2006. He was injured in Italy's first game in 2010, then returned in 2014, but Italy failed to make it out of the group stage.

Philippe Coutinho '100% fit' to face England, says he's happy at Liverpool

Brazil playmaker Philippe Coutinho has declared himself fit to face England on Tuesday, and insists he is happy with life at Liverpool despite his failure to force a move to Barcelona in the summer.

The 25-year-old handed in a transfer request in August after the Catalan club had a bid for him rejected, but the Reds paid no attention to his demands and turned down a further two offers with owners Fenway Sports Group publicly stating he was not for sale.

Coutinho has subsequently been successfully reintegrated into the team, having missed the start of the season with a back problem, and despite sitting out the last three matches with an adductor injury he is set to feature in Tuesday's friendly against England.

"I'm playing in one of the biggest leagues in the world,'' he told Sky Sports.

"I'm always happy. But now it's important to concentrate on the national team. At the moment I am very happy with my life.

"Every day, I work harder than before to improve myself and become a better all-around footballer.''

Liverpool will also be boosted by the news Coutinho has declared himself fully fit again.

"Unfortunately, I could not play for Liverpool in the past three games because of injury,'' he added.

"Now I feel 100 percent fit, I have recovered and I am in a good shape to be available for the game against England.

"I never want to miss any Brazil games. I am honoured to wear this shirt whenever I can.

Fernando Torres linked with Rafa Benitez reunion at Newcastle

With the January window on the horizon, there's plenty brewing in the transfer market. All the latest deals and potential deals can be found here.

Torres set for Benitez reunion?

Fernando Torres could be poised to return to the Premier League on loan and link up again with Rafa Benitez, who signed him for Liverpool a little over a decade ago.

Newcastle manager Benitez, who brought Torres to Anfield from Atletico Madrid in summer 2007 and also coached him during his brief stint as Chelsea manager, is aware of the Spain international's desire to return to England, the Mirrorreports.

But so, it says, are Southampton, who are also in the frame to strike a short-term deal for the one-time Chelsea striker.

Torres, 33, has started only twice for Atletico in 2017-18 but wants to spend next season, the last on his contract, with his boyhood club.

He is eager to play regular first-team football from January until the end of the campaign and the Mirror says that won't be happening at Atleti, where Diego Costa will soon be eligible for selection.

It adds that "the player's representatives have let his desire to leave on loan in January be known to both Benitez and Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino."

The Chronicle says a Newcastle switch is likely to depend on the club's takeover going through, adding that "although acquiring a proven Premier League forward is a priority for Benitez, a move for Torres could prove expensive" if he opts to pursue it.

Can to reject Juve interest and join City on a free

Juventus may have been hopeful that they could persuade Liverpool midfielder Emre Can to join them, but now Manchester City seem the likely winners of the race for his signature.

Can, 23, is reluctant to commit his future to Liverpool unless the club include a release clause in any new deal -- a request that has not so far been met.

And now the Mail says the Germany international, out of contract on Merseyside in the summer, "is set to snub Juventus in favour of joining City" on a free transfer.

Serie A champions Juve are now reported to have turned their attentions elsewhere, but the Mirror says Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund hope they might be able to persuade Can to return to Germany.

It says France international Umtiti, reported to be of interest to both Manchester United and Manchester City, is in line for a "new and improved" contract including a £53 million release clause designed to discourage further interest.

- Former Blackburn and Stoke midfielder Steven N'Zonzi "has put top English clubs on alert" after saying he loves the Premier League, the Mirror reports.

Sevilla midfielder N'Zonzi, under contract at the Liga club until 2020, has been linked with United, City and Arsenal since joining Sevilla from Stoke in 2015, and the Mirror says he "would be tempted by a return" to the English top flight after making his senior France debut last week.

Liverpool to monitor Sadio Mane injury after return from Senegal duty - Klopp

Sadio Mane's fitness will be assessed when he returns to Liverpool after being released from international duty early, manager Jurgen Klopp has said.

Mane is due to report back at Liverpoolafter he "slightly felt his old injury," the Senegalese Football Federation said.

The 25-year-old missed five club matches with a hamstring injury before making a surprise return in the 4-1 victory at West Ham earlier this month.

He then played 90 minutes on Friday as he helped Senegal beat South Africa 2-0 to secure World Cup qualification.

Speaking to the official Liverpool website, Klopp said: "Specifically on him returning to Melwood early to be with us; obviously it is a concern that the hamstring injury is again on the agenda and it will be critical for us to monitor and manage that in the coming days.

"At this stage we haven't seen Sadio yet to properly assess the extent, but what is clear is that we will have to stay on top of this for the rest of the week and make sure we are careful in how we look after him.

"There has been really strong communication between ourselves and the Senegal team management to ensure the player is properly protected and looked after.

"We respect how important he is for Senegal and therefore it must always be the case that they get to make the decision when he is under their care.

"It should not be forgotten in Liverpool either how important it is to Sadio that he represents his country whenever he is fit enough to do so.

"He is so proud of his country and recognises what a role model he is for them.

"So in this moment all I can really say with certainty is that we will assess Sadio as soon as he lands back in the country and make decisions on what rehab and treatment gives him the best chance of being back fit and strong for the important fixtures we have coming."

Klopp had previously said he hoped Senegal would only use the forward if it was entirely necessary.

Having secured their place at Russia 2018, Mane is not part of their squad for the return fixture against South Africa on Tuesday.

"I have to say big congratulations to Senegal on the achievement of qualifying for the World Cup; this is fantastic news for their country and the players -- Sadio included," Klopp added.

"Aliou Cisse and his guys have done a fantastic job there and you can see them making a real impact in Russia come next summer.

"Personally speaking, I'm delighted for Sadio. Everyone in Liverpool knows his ability and the best players should be on the best stage -- Sadio will now have this wonderful chance."

Top Five: Disappointments of the African World Cup qualifying campaign

*SPORTNOW* picks out the five biggest African disappointments of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Marc Wilmots was appointed by the Ivory Coast charged with helping the Elephants bounce back from their dismal Africa Cup of Nations title defence.

Unfortunately for the Elephants, the Belgian coach just oversaw a further slump for the West African giants, and his job now appears to be under threat.

Despite boasting one of the most talented squads in the continent, Wilmots oversaw just one win in four qualifiers this year - away at Gabon -and fell to home defeats against both the Panthers and, decisively, against Morocco and former coach Herve Renard on Saturday.

The Ivorians' nervy and limp showing in that contest means that the Elephants end their run of three consecutive World Cup showings, meaning that some of the continent's top stars will be watching on from the outside next summer.

Algeria's qualifying campaign lurched from disappointment to disappointment, and they were a shoo-in for this list.

Les Fennecs parted ways with Milovan Rajevac after their 1-1 draw with Cameroon, and both of his successors -- Georges Leekens and Lucas Alcaraz -- had been dispatched before the draw with Nigeria this weekend.

Algeria have enough top talents to bounce back from their campaign, but rarely have such a talented collection of African talents bombed so heavily in the qualifiers.

Ghana: The Black Stars parted ways with Avram Grant and reappointed Kwesi Appiah after the Nations Cup, hoping that the local coach would help Ghana improve on a sluggish start to their campaign.

While Appiah didn't actually lose a match, his failure to beat Congo-Brazzaville at home in September proved costly, even if they did bounce back in the return fixture.

The coach opted to axe the Ayew Brothers and a handful of other key names as he looked to salvage the qualifying campaign, but a draw away against Uganda wasn't enough...even before Egypt won at home against Congo.

There are a few reasons for optimism - notably Thomas Partey and Richmond Boakye - but it will be intriguing to see whether Appiah can bring together the various disparate elements of his national pool for the 2019 Nations Cup campaign.

South Africa: Even though Bafana Bafana were, in principle, still in the running for Russia until their defeat by Senegal this weekend, South Africa can hardly look back on their qualifying campaign with pride.

One of their two victories - against Senegal - was subsequently annulled due to the corrupt refereeing of Joseph Lamptey, while they were also guilty away in Burkina Faso - in their first qualifier - when they conceded a late Banou Diawara equaliser to set the tone.

The nadir, surely, was the double-header against Cape Verde, when Bafana took the lead then capitulated in Praia, before falling to a 2-1 defeat in Durban.

Stuart Baxter has his work cut out amidst growing criticism.

Congolese nerve: The Democratic Republic of Congo were drawn in the easiest qualifying group, and won both of their first two matches - smashing four past Libya in their opening fixture.

However, they capitulated in front of their own fans, conceding two goals in three second-half minutes as Tunisia denied them all three points.

They faced an uphill struggle from there.