Manchester United could struggle to secure permanent transfers for a number of fringe players currently on loan, with Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo not thought to have a future in the new-look squad being built by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But failure to offload the trio could also have the added side effect of impacting the club’s summer transfer budget as money raised from sales to boost available funds might be limited.
The Evening Standard notes that United usually allow money raised from players sales to go towards transfer budgets. But desire to sell the likes of Sanchez, Smalling and Rojo may not be met by the same demand as clubs around the world struggle with the financial impact of coronavirus.
Although finding a permanent buyer who could meet Sanchez’s vast wage demands was always going to be a challenge, the Evening Standard explains that Rojo and Smalling represented ‘an opportunity to bring in significant funds’.
That may now not be the case with transfer budgets generally slashed. Ultimately, United might need to accept less than they originally wanted in order to get the players, who are unlikely to feature in plans moving forward, off their books.
Further loan deals, which may become a more common feature of the market as clubs look to do business with smaller funds, is the other alternative.
Smalling has restored his reputation with a promising loan spell at Roma this season, which may help reel in an offer for the centre-back. Rojo is a different story as he hardly played in the first half of the campaign and then saw a loan at boyhood club Estudiantes plagued by injury.
Estudiantes coach Leandro Desabato has already cast doubt over whether Rojo will even complete his existing loan, suggesting on Argentine radio it is ‘likely’ he will leave.
“We have to wait, but Rojo is likely to leave. The loan is due, and if Manchester do not want to continue loaning, it’s understandable,” Desabato said.
There is some questionable clarity in those comments. The only reason United would refuse to honour the existing loan is if the club wanted Rojo back at Old Trafford to boost the squad for the remainder of the season, which is known not to be case.
Beyond first choice centre-backs Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, Solskjaer has Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe at his disposal. Luke Shaw has also been used in a back three system in recent months, while even Phil Jones still remains on the books for the time being.
90min understands that despite concerns over coronavirus, which has already started to impact finances, United remain confident of securing the signings of Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.
With regard to Sancho in particular, a source close to the situation has told 90min, “…the expectation from both sides is that this deal will get done – at some point this summer.”
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There is no other way to say it, free-kicks are an art form.
From distance, to be able to manipulate the ball over, around or even under a defensive wall and still evade a goalkeeper takes incredible skill and repetition to mould into a weapon the pitch.
Here’s a look at the 20 best free-kick takers in Premier League history – ranked…
20. Jamie Redknapp
Former Liverpool and Tottenham midfielder Jamie Redknapp is something of an overlooked free-kick master. Although often injured during his career now better known as a pundit and television personality, he netted nine times from dead balls in the Premier League.
Willian has earned a fine reputation as a free-kick specialist over the last few years and often scores from set-pieces. Back in 2015/16, five of the Brazilian’s first six goals of the season across Premier League and Champions League games were all from direct free-kicks.
Learn how to take free-kicks with Willian – watch here.
18. Steven Gerrard
That Steven Gerrard isn’t overly remembered for his free-kicks tells you just how good the Liverpool legend was in every aspect of his game. Gerrard’s dead ball efforts were usually rasping strikes that relied on spectacular power, often threatening to break the net.
17. Didier Drogba
Rather than wrap his foot around the ball to add curl and bend, Didier Drogba often kicked straight through it with a side-foot at set-pieces, almost like it was as simple as just passing into the net as he pleased. The Ivorian once scored a sublime effort in a comfortable Chelsea win at the Emirates Stadium, while a free-kick also settled the 2010 FA Cup final.
16. Leighton Baines
Long serving Everton left-back Leighton Baines is one of only a handful of Premier League players to have scored two direct free-kicks in the same game, doing so against West Ham in 2013. His set-pieces have made him a valuable asset for the Toffees for well over a decade.
15. Gylfi Sigurdsson
Gylfi Sigurdsson perfected the art of free-kicks early in his career and had already scored plenty for Reading and Hoffenheim by the time he arrived in the Premier League with Swansea, simply carrying on. His very last goal for the Swans was a free-kick against Manchester United in 2017.
14. Juan Mata
Spanish maestro Juan Mata has scored a number of free-kicks for Chelsea and Manchester United over the last nine years. When Mata successfully converted his eighth Premier League free-kick in October 2018, no other player had scored more since his debut in 2011.
13. Luis Suarez
Luis Suarez scored several free-kicks during his time at Liverpool, all of which came in his final two years at Anfield. He bent an unstoppable effort into the net against Norwich in the 2013/14 campaign, his fourth goal of that game alone. Probably due to competition from Lionel Messi, Suarez has surprisingly only scored one free-kick in six years at Barcelona.
12. Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard could strike a ball as well as anyone in Premier League history, so it is only natural that the Chelsea legend was free-kick expert. Like Gerrard, other parts of his game are generally more celebrated when looking back on his career, but he was lethal if presented with an opportunity to take one, often from some distance.
Would Frank Lampard still be on duty for free-kicks and penalties if he was still playing for Chelsea? Watch here.
11. Ian Harte
Although perhaps his most famous free-kick was the rocket he scored against Deportivo La Coruna in the Champions League, ex-Leeds left-back Ian Harte was a set-piece master in the Premier League. Harte was also an accomplished penalty taker. That combined with his free-kick ability helped the Irishman score 28 Premier League goals in his career.
10. Nolberto Solano
‘Nobby’ Solano arrived at Newcastle in 1998 a virtual unknown outside South America, yet it wasn’t long before he became a Premier League cult hero. His ability from free-kicks was a large part of that. One of his earliest goals in England was an in-perfect bending set-piece against Manchester United that clipped the inside of the post as it beat Peter Schmeichel.
9. Morten Gamst Pedersen
Upon moving to England from his native Norway, Morten Gamst Pedersen quickly earned a reputation as a goalscoring winger and free-kick expert. The former Blackburn star is among a select group of just eight players to have scored 10 or more Premier League free-kicks. They didn’t need to central either, with strikes against Wigan and Manchester United both from wide areas.
8. Sebastian Larsson
When Sebastian Larsson scored a free-kick for Sunderland against former club Arsenal in 2011 it prompted Arsene Wenger to declare the Swede ‘maybe the best in the league as a free-kick taker’ at that time. He has scored free-kicks wherever he has been throughout his career and managed 11 in the Premier League alone.
7. Kevin De Bruyne
Although capable of what you would consider a ‘traditional’ free-kick that goes up and over the wall, Kevin De Bruyne has brought a level of ingenuity to his set-pieces at Manchester City. That is because the Belgian has fooled more than one opponent by sliding a free-kick along the ground, underneath a jumping wall. That he does both makes it impossible for defenders to know what is coming. Should they jump or not?
6. Dimitri Payet
His time in English football was ultimately only short, but Dimtri Payet’s free-kicks were special to behold when he briefly lit up the Premier League with West Ham. The Frenchman was able to put incredible height and dip on the ball as he struck it, which meant he could put it anywhere in the goal from any angle.
5. Thierry Henry
There was an effortless brilliance attached to Thierry Henry’s free-kick taking ability. One particular effort against Wigan in 2005 stands out in that respect as the Arsenal icon, who had a reputation for a cheeky quick free-kick, was asked to wait to take it by referee Graham Poll. When the official gave permission, Henry stroked the ball in from 30 yards and mouthed ‘Is that enough?’ in Poll’s direction.
4. Laurent Robert
Laurent Robert scored exactly half of his Premier League goals for from free-kicks, 11 in total. The Frenchman was at St James’ Park during a golden period for Newcastle in the early 2000s and would strike his set-pieces with such venom it was seemingly impossible that he still had the poise and control over the ball to send it on target and not into the stands.
3. Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola once confessed that he learned the art of free-kicks by watching former Napoli teammate Diego Maradona in training and mimicking the legend’s technique. Clearly it worked, as only five players in Serie A history scored more free-kicks, while he jointly holds the Premier League record alongside Henry for most free-kicks scored by a foreign player.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo perfected a new way of taking free-kicks in the mid-2000s, being the first to really bring the dipping knuckleball style to the Premier League. His effort against Portsmouth in 2008 is perhaps the single best free-kick English football has ever seen, with the ball up and down over the wall yet still straight as an arrow into the top corner.
1. David Beckham
No one has scored more goals from direct free-kicks in Premier League history than David Beckham’s 18, who is one of the most celebrated set-piece specialists of all-time. Beckham, whose unique technique added extra curl to the ball to take it away from goalkeepers, famously practiced free-kicks after training by hanging a tire in the top corner of the goal.
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Leicester City have re-opened contract talks with Caglar Soyuncu over a new, long-term deal, after negotiations were put on hold due to the Premier League’s suspension way back in March.
The centre back has been an integral part to Leicester’s success this season, missing just one Premier League match, with the Foxes sitting comfortably in the Champions League places.
Soyuncu has filled the void left by Harry Maguire following his switch to Manchester United in the summer of 2019, and his displays have seen him linked with a move to Manchester City, Arsenal and Barcelona.
According to the Daily Mail, Leicester have attempted to quell fears of losing a key central defender for a second successive summer by reviving contract talks with Soyuncu.
The Turkish defender is set to be offered a substantial rise to his current pay packet.
In April, 90min revealed that Leicester were confident of tying down a selection of their key first team players to new long term deals, with an ambition to establish themselves as a top four Premier League side.
Despite interest from Manchester City, Soyuncu was always eager to remain with the Foxes and put pen to paper on a new deal.
The 24-year-old joined Leicester from Freiburg in August 2018 for £19m, but was limited to just six top flight starts during his debut season.
However, following Maguire’s big money move to Manchester United, Soyuncu has come into his own, with the Foxes not even required to dip into the transfer market to sign a replacement for the England international.
The former Freiburg man has formed a mean defensive partnership with Jonny Evans, helping the Foxes to the third best defensive record in the Premier League.
Brendan Rodgers’ side have conceded just 28 goals in 29 top flight matches this season, and currently sit eight points clear of fifth place Man Utd.
Leicester are also looking to extend the stays of Wes Morgan, Christian Fuchs and Nampalys Mendy to enable them to see out the campaign at the King Power.
Juventus have approached Barcelona regarding a loan move for Ousmane Dembele as the Catalan giants attempt to raise funds ahead of a summer of spending.
Dembele has endured a tricky time at Camp Nou since his €105m move in 2017, struggling with a combination of injuries and loss of form.
Barcelona are keen to bring in Inter striker Lautaro Martínez in the summer and have also been plotting a reunion with former forward Neymar, so Dembele may be offloaded to make way for the new arrivals.
According to Spanish news outlet Mundo Deportivo, Juventus opened discussion with Barcelona regarding the winger during talks over midfielder Arthur, who remains the Serie A champions’ primary target.
The report states that Juventus are looking to strengthen their attacking options out wide, with Juan Cuadrado entering the latter stages of his career, and Federico Bernardeschi only used sporadically under Maurizio Sarri.
Dembele has endured a torrid run of injuries during his time at Barcelona, suffering a hamstring problem in February upon his return from three months out with a hamstring injury.
This recent injury record means Juventus would only be prepared to commit to an initial loan deal, although Barcelona would be keen to include a mandatory purchase option, following their failure to permanently offload Philippe Coutinho to Bayern Munich.
At the end of May, 90min revealed that Liverpool had lined up a loan move Dembele as a potential alternative signing to Timo Werner, should RB Leipzig be unwilling to budge on the forward’s £50m release clause.
An initial loan would enable to Reds to keep their costs down during the financial uncertainty triggered by the coronavirus, firing a warning sign to Leipzig that they are under no pressure to match their asking price for Werner.
Manager Jurgen Klopp is a long-term admirer of the French international, having recommended Dembele to Borussia Dortmund back in 2015.
However, according to Gianluca DiMarzio, despite interest from both Juventus and Liverpool, the 23-year-old has no desire to leave Barcelona. Dembele still has two years remaining on his contract at Camp Nou.
Clubs have had a week to informally discuss the plan for the Premier League’s return, but Thursday will bring about a new conference call between all 20 clubs to get to the bottom of how this restart malarkey is going to go down.
There’s a lot on the agenda, so let’s dive right in.
As noted by Sky Sports News, one of the first things on the agenda will be the use of neutral venues to finish the season – something which league and club officials are eager to avoid.
Manchester City vs Liverpool, Manchester City vs Newcastle, Manchester United vs Sheffield United, Newcastle vs Liverpool, Everton vs Liverpool, and the game in which Liverpool could secure the title have all been recommended to be held at neutral venues by the police.
The Premier League are confident they could help keep fans safe during these ‘high-risk’ games, but the matter will be discussed by all 20 clubs before a decision is made.
The idea of allowing alterations to teams’ 25-man squads will also be discussed as some teams now have players who have recovered from long-term injuries.
For example, Newcastle’s Paul Dummett and Aston Villa’s Tom Heaton were both left out of squads back in February as neither were expected to be fit before the season ended, but now that has changed and clubs are interested in adding their once-stricken stars to their teams.
Allowing players who are returning from loans or completing permanent transfers on 1 July to join the squads will also be up for debate, but it is expected that most sides will shoot that idea down fairly quickly.
FIFA have encouraged the use of five substitutes in each game to try and help keep players fresh during what will undoubtedly be a hectic few months, and Chelsea have even asked for permission to name nine substitutes, rather than seven.
Both plans have been met with resistance from some teams who feel that the plans would only benefit those with deeper squads.
If the season finishes normally (or as normal as possible), relegation will not be impacted. However, if the season is again halted and called to an abrupt end in a few weeks, that might not be the case.
League officials want to decide the final table using a points-per-game system, but there are concerns this could be unfair for teams with particularly tough runs of fixtures over the coming weeks.
Many bottom-half sides want relegation scrapped, but the FA is not interested. The EFL have threatened to sue if their teams are not granted promotion to the top flight, and The Telegraph note that a 23-club league is not an option. It’s carnage.
Somehow, VAR has managed to worm its way into the conversation, because we hadn’t heard enough from the infamous system this year already.
FIFA have granted permission for leagues to get rid of VAR for the remainder of the campaign, but the Premier League want to keep it. Most clubs are in agreement, so this part of the discussion shouldn’t take long.
Premier League clubs are expected to cope with the financial pressure of the coronavirus crisis fairly comfortably, but the same cannot be said of the rest of English football – with many lower-league and women’s sides fearing it could force them to collapse.
The Telegraph state that there is yet to be any significant support from the Premier League, which has left the government calling for help for the ‘entire football family’.
The top flight are understood to be focused on sorting out their own future first, but the idea of financial support will soon be put on their agenda.
We already know that football will get underway on 17 June when Manchester City face Arsenal and Sheffield United meet Aston Villa, and the Evening Standard note that we could have the full fixture list for the next gameweek by the end of Thursday’s meeting.
In an attempt to make things for entertaining for fans, broadcasters had been pushing to increase the number of cameras and microphones around the stadium on match day, including dressing-room cameras and half-time player interviews, but those plans have been swiftly shot down.
That’s according to the Daily Mail, who state that cubs were not keen on the added chaos and behind-the-scenes access. The only changes which are likely to be confirmed are an audio feed of the pre-match coin toss and an extra camera to see teams running out of the tunnel.
Only one commentator and co-commentator will be granted access to stadiums, meaning many will be left reporting on the games from off-site studios, and there will also be no filming on the pitch before or after games.
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