Transfer Talk: Conte to replace Blanc


Remember the last time Manchester City won the title? Roberto Mancini had to wait until the final day of the transfer window to snatch FIVE of his top targets at the last minute. No such problems for Manuel Pellegrini this summer – he has already brought in three players and is looking at more new arrivals. “I don’t think the squad is complete yet but we have six weeks before the transfer window closes,” he said. Read More

Barcelona agree €20m deal for Mathieu

The Frenchman has finally sealed his move to the Camp Nou side after spending the past five seasons at Valencia

Barcelona have confirmed that they have reached a deal that will see them sign Jeremy Mathieu from Valencia on a four-year deal for a fee of €20 million.

The Catalans were looking to sign a new centre-back following the retirement of Carles Puyol at the end of the 2013-14 campaign and they have long been pursuing 30-year-old Mathieu.

After protracted negotations, Barca have finally secured the signing of the Frenchman, who will have a €50m buyout clause in his new contract after becoming one of the most expensive players at the age of 30 or over in history.

“Barcelona and Valencia have reached an agreement for the transfer of the French player Jeremy Mathieu,” a statement on the club’s official website reads.

“Jeremy Mathieu will sign a contract with Barcelona for the next four seasons plus an optional season more.

“The cost of the transfer is €20 million and the buyout clause will be €50m.”

Mathieu started his professional career with Sochaux and also wore the Toulouse jersey before joining Valencia in the summer of 2009.

The defender had since made 177 appearances in all competitions for the Mestalla side, scoring seven goals in the process.

How Liverpool could line up this season

After losing Luis Suarez, Brendan Rodgers must pursue increased attacking depth and defensive additions in the latest in our series looking at the Premier League’s top six sides

By George Ankers

This summer has already been one of the most interesting at Liverpool in years and could yet get more so. After the phenomenal achievement of finishing second in the Premier League last season, Brendan Rodgers faces his toughest challenge yet in losing his best player and simultaneously expanding the squad to meet demands increased in both frequency and difficulty.

The departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona will have huge ramifications – both positive and negative – and one of them is the amount of money with which Rodgers has to play.

The Reds manager has wasted no time in getting started on addressing one of the biggest problems for Liverpool last term – a thin squad helped to stimulate some tactical trickery but did leave them exposed at times. It does, however, bode well that a first-choice XI (at least further forward) is difficult to predict with certainty.

One of Rodgers’s tests will be dealing with the problem that Tottenham fumbled post-Gareth Bale: juggling several new, expensive faces all arriving in place of one guaranteed starter.

Suarez was both Liverpool’s best goalscorer (with 31 in all competitions) and second-best creator, with 13 assists. Those separate qualities are most directly being replaced by Loic Remy, who is set to join from QPR for £8 million, and Adam Lallana but both cannot be integrated without a shuffle elsewhere. Then, of course, you also have Rickie Lambert and the very promising Lazar Markovic added to the mix and the impact on Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling’s roles to be considered.

DECISIVE | Lallana can help fill the creative void left by Suarez
The result, though, should be similar to last season. Liverpool’s play during their best periods of 2013-14 was characterised by vicious, direct counterattacks, started from deep by Steven Gerrard and executed further forward with searing pace and ruthless finishing. The likes of Remy and Markovic, in particular, can maintain that pace and directness while Lambert and Lallana will encourage better combination play where before the Reds’ strikers could, at times, be too individualistic.

While the midfield is built around Gerrard’s regista role, two will continue to join him in the engine room, which leaves two real options for the shape of the forward line: either a tip of a midfield diamond and two out-and-out strikers or a wider three with one through the middle. Usefully, Rodgers now has the depth of talent to pick and choose depending on his opponents.

Whatever happens, Sturridge will have primacy and the rest of the pack will move around his usually central role. Even Lambert, still written off by some as a straight target man, offers a great deal of variation thanks to his intelligent movement and eye for a pass. Not only has the 32-year-old been effective further on the right flank at times for the Saints but he could also conceivably play at the top of the diamond while two quicker feet dash into the channels ahead of him.

Lallana’s role, too, will be an interesting one. While trying to fit in the others further forward – as well as Philippe Coutinho – Rodgers might be tempted to bring the £25m man back a little to slot into the midfield.

Though Jordan Henderson is sure to start, who will take the other place as a busier central player easing Gerrard’s burden is an open question. Appearances there were split fairly evenly between Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen in 2013-14 but the former looks set to join Napoli after an injury-affected couple of years and the latter is improving but not yet what you would call Champions League quality.

Though he rarely completed 90 minutes for Southampton last term, Lallana was fifth in the list of players who covered the most distance in the Premier League – Henderson was one of those ahead of him. While not his ideal position, the flexibility of a midfield three would allow him to get forward and get creative when on the ball and that could appeal to Rodgers.

Allen aside, the only other candidates for the position are Coutinho (even less natural) and Emre Can (who will need more time to adapt and is likely better suited to being Gerrard’s standby-cum-successor). Again, though, the Reds benefit from having so many options.

The only perplexing thing about their summer business is how it has taken so long to start to address their defence. With a more settled, competent back line, Liverpool would probably have won the league last year and only now, after four confirmed recruits up top, are they on the verge of making one defensive signing.

That man is Dejan Lovren as Rodgers once again raids Southampton and, when a deal expected to be worth over £20m is completed imminently, the Croatian should slot in as Liverpool’s first-choice centre-back. He will likely be joined by Martin Skrtel after the Reds’ other options – Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure – all failed to nail down a regular spot last season.

Playing 16, 15 and 14 times respectively at centre-back in 2013-14, the trio’s struggles contributed to a defensive record of 50 goals conceded which was worse than 11th-placed Crystal Palace (48). Lovren’s Saints, meanwhile, let in only 46 thanks to his solid partnership with Jose Fonte.

Full-backs are the final concern and Liverpool would do well to bring in at least one extra body here before the window closes. If, as reports suggest, they are out to gazump Arsenal for the loan signing of right-back Javi Manquillo, that would be a step in the right direction – Glen Johnson has lost the consistency of two or three years ago and his struggles with England this summer only underlined his positioning issues.

Jon Flanagan was one of the revelations of last season as an unorthodox left-back and the 21-year-old merits being first choice on either flank this time around. Whether or not that should be on his natural right side will likely come down to whether or not Rodgers also brings in a left-sided defender but the new England international deserves a crack at Johnson’s role.

Overall, though, Liverpool’s early moves to replace Suarez and build upon what was the most exciting team of 2013-14 look very shrewd indeed. Where before there was one unstoppable star, Rodgers now has an array of options at his disposal; it will be fascinating to see exactly how he deploys them.

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Shaqiri: Juventus not a step back from Bayern

The Switzerland international has acknowledged that it would be hard to turn down the Serie A champions if they made an offer

Bayern Munich attacker Xherdan Shaqiri has admitted that he would be open to a move to Juventus if the opportunity arises.

The Bundesliga champions recently stressed that they have no intention of selling the Switzerland international, yet Juventus continue to closely monitor Shaqiri’s situation at the Allianz Arena as they look to continue their summer recruitment plans.

Shaqiri, who has also been linked with Roma and Liverpool, says he has yet to hear of any concrete interest from the Italian champions but insists it would not be a backward step to move to Turin from Pep Guardiola’s side.

“Juventus would definitely be a nice option,” Shaqiri was quoted as saying by Tuttosport.

“Juventus are a big club, who wouldn’t want to play for them… I don’t think Juventus would be a step back in my career.

“But I am on holiday at the moment. My brother is occupying himself with my future.

“I don’t know whether Juventus have been in touch with Bayern. I have not heard anything about it from Juventus or Bayern.”

Shaqiri joined Bayern from Basel in the summer of 2012, but has been struggling to secure regular first-team action at the Allianz Arena due to the stiff competition for places.

The 22-year-old has a contract with FCB until June 2016.