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Van Dijk rubbishes contract speculation

The Dutch defender has seen it suggested that he is line to land a lucrative new deal at Anfield, but he insists no discussions have been held as yet. Virgil van Dijk has rubbished reports suggesting that he is in contract talks with Liverpool.

The Dutch defender is already tied to terms at Anfield until the summer of 2023, with a five-and-a-half-year deal penned upon his arrival from Southampton in January 2018.

Van Dijk has starred since linking up with the Reds, with his performers earning him widespread praise and individual awards. The reigning UEFA Player of the Year is in contention for the FIFA Best Award and expected to compete with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the 2019 Ballon d’Or.

Such a standing in the global game is said to have brought Liverpool to the negotiating table. They are eager to reward Van Dijk for the stunning progress he has made on Mereyside and recognise his importance to the collective cause. A lucrative offer is said to have been put to the 28-year-old, with it claimed that a verbal agreement has been reached.

Van Dijk, though, says no discussions have taken place. He told Sky Sports News when quizzed on the rumours: “There is nothing going on, so that’s it.”

Virgil van Dijk Liverpool 2019-20

Pressed again on whether he would like to enter into negotiations, Van Dijk added: “That’s not on me. I saw some reports in the media that I was agreeing a new deal and stuff.

“But I’m not even discussing anything at the moment. The only thing I want to do right now is focus on the games and we’ll see in the future what may happen.”

Liverpool came unstuck in their most recent outing, with a 2-0 defeat suffered away at Napoli in a group stage opener for the holders of the Champions League crown.

That result represents a rare reversal for a side that remains faultless in their 2019-20 Premier League campaign, with a winning run in the English top-flight now standing at 14 games. With that form in mind, Van Dijk has insisted that a setback in Italy is of no great concern to the Reds.

He said after seeing two late goals from Dries Mertens and Fernando Llorente down Jurgen Klopp’s side: “It didn’t feel like a wake-up call. It felt like it was going to be a draw, and then the penalty changed everything in the game.

“It shouldn’t be a wake-up call. We have been performing outstandingly since the start of the season so there is no reason to panic. And in the game as well, we played well, we put them under pressure, we created opportunities on the break.  So there were a lot of positive things, the only thing not positive was the result.”

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‘Man Utd made a mistake selling Lukaku without having replacement’

The former Red Devils midfielder is not sure that Marcus Rashford has the composure in front of goal to lead the line on a consistent basis. Manchester United made a mistake in sanctioning the sale of Romelu Lukaku without having a ready-made replacement lined up, says Paul Scholes.

The Red Devils agreed to part with the Belgium international frontman over the summer, with the 26-year-old having recorded 42 goals in 96 appearances for the club. Lukaku was allowed to head for Inter as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sought to embrace a different attacking philosophy at Old Trafford – one which places greater emphasis on movement and pace over power and presence.

United legend Scholes feels the wrong approach is being taken, with the Red Devils now lacking a proven and prolific focal point in the final third as Rashford and Anthony Martial have shown themselves to be better when operating on the flanks .

“[United] obviously knew they were going to sell Lukaku at some point, but not to have a centre-forward lined up seems a mistake to me,” said Scholes. Whether they did, whether it just dragged on too long from the club’s point of view, I don’t know.

“To go into a season without a centre-forward, when it’s a club known for its attacking style, and probably four centre-forwards in its heyday, so to go in there with Rashford and Martial who you’re not quite sure… are they left wingers? Are they centre-forwards? We don’t know, but I’m sure it’ll get sorted.”

Scholes added on Rashford, who has netted three times in five appearances this season but boasts a personal-best goal return of just 13 across any given campaign : “It’s hard to say, I just don’t know [Rashford’s best position]. I think he’s good from the left.

“Originally when he was a young lad I thought he was definitely a centre-forward. I thought he had awareness and the movement to be a centre-forward. But I look at him now and I’m not sure he’s got the composure for that.

“I think his best games are when he comes from the left-hand side. But I think that’s the same with Martial as well, they’re both very similar players. If you ask them, I’d say they probably both want to play centre-forward, but I think they’re both better from the left-hand side.”

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Ferdinand urges Kane to consider Tottenham exit

The Spurs striker remains loyal to the club that handed him his big break, but the Manchester United legend feels he needs to be chasing down trophies. Harry Kane has been told to consider making a move away from Tottenham, with former England star Rio Ferdinand admitting he would be “gone” if left facing a similar situation.

A product of Spurs’ academy system, Kane has remained loyal to the club that handed him his big break. The England forward is tied to a long-term contract and has offered no indication that he is considering a fresh start elsewhere, with Kane having scored 168 goals in just 258 appearances for his north London employers.

Ferdinand, though, feels that the 26-year-old, who is widely regarded as one of the finest No.9s on the planet, deserves to be challenging for major honours and needs to acknowledge that the clock is ticking . The former United defender, who won countless trophies during an iconic spell at Old Trafford, told BT Sport : “If you look at it as if you’re an individual, put yourself in Harry Kane’s shoes, you’re saying ‘I’m off’.

“I’ve got to be honest with you, I’d be gone because I’ve not got time to hang around. I could get injured next season, I could lose form etc. I want to win now.

“I’ve given most of my career to this club and they haven’t [won anything]. Yeah, you go very close, you can keep going very close, they’ve been close a few times of winning the league and then obviously the Champions League. It’s not enough. I can understand [Christian] Eriksen, you can understand Eriksen’s frustrations and wanting to leave and saying ‘I want to go somewhere and potentially win something’, not be a maybe.”

Mauricio Pochettino Spurs

While Ferdinand believes Kane should be asking questions of whether his ambition can be matched at Spurs, Peter Crouch believes patience is required under Mauricio Pochettin. The Argentine is considered to have carried the club a long way since 2014 , with major silverware the only box left to be ticked.

Former Tottenham striker Crouch said: “Everyone talks about ‘they need to win silverware, they haven’t won for so long’. But people forget where Tottenham were before Pochettino and where they are now.

“He’s moved the club on so, so far and now people expect them in the Champions League and they now expect the possibility for them to win the Premier League and they were a million miles away from that before he arrived.”

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City defensive duo too old to always play – Pep

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has suggested he will keep searching for a solution to his defensive crisis because Fernandinho and Nicolas Otamendi are too old to play every game.

Fernandinho slotted in for the 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk after injuries to Aymeric Laporte and John Stones but Guardiola admitted afterwards he wants to try other options because the Brazilian and Otamendi have a combined age of 65.

“I didn’t have doubts [Fernandinho] could do it,” Guardiola told a news conference at Metalist Stadium. “Nico is 31, Fernandinho is 34 and next alternative is 18. For three or four months I don’t know what will happen.

“Both were incredible tonight. Nico showed incredible personality after what happened in the previous game. We need another solution — Rodri or Kyle Walker maybe — because they cannot play every game at their age.”

City were back to their ruthless best in Kharkiv with goals from Riyad Mahrez, Ilkay Gundogan and Gabriel Jesus ensuring their Champions League campaign began in style. It was in stark contrast to 12 months ago when City kicked off with a 2-1 defeat to Lyon.

“I think already about Watford [on Saturday] as we don’t have much time but we started with a good result and I know we played really good,” said Guardiola. “In the first 10 or 15 minutes in the second half we created incredible chances to make the game over. So it stayed open. But all the guys were fantastic and it’s a good result to start — better than last season.”

As well as Fernandinho, Guardiola reserved special praise for Gundogan, who helped set up the first goal for Mahrez with a shot that came back off the post before scoring the second himself.

“He’s an exceptional player,” said Guardiola. “He knows how good he has to play as there are many others in that position. “We have problems centre-back but we have good players in other positions.

“I’m satisfied with his performance today and ever since we’ve been here together. People are starting to look at what he’s done. Without him last season when Fernandinho was out we couldn’t have won the Premier League in the way we did. He can play in two or three different positions and today he made an outstanding performance.”

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Zidane rips Real Madrid for lack of intensity

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane fumed at his team’s lack of intensity after the 13-times European champions started their Champions League campaign with a chastening 3-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. Real, record European champions, were overwhelmed, especially in midfield, and failed to muster a single shot on target at the Parc des Princes.

“Clearly they were better than us in every department — in the way they played, in midfield,” Zidane told a news conference.

“What upset me is that we did not put enough intensity in the game and at that level of competition, it’s not possible. They’re good at creating chances, that’s not what worries me. What worries me is that lack of intensity,” he added after Real suffered their first defeat of the season.

With their midfield players totally suffocated by the PSG duo of Idrissa Gueye and Marco Verratti, Real struggled to bring the ball forward.

“Failing to create proper chances with the players we have up front — Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Eden Hazard — is a weird feeling,” Zidane said.

“You can play badly but if you have the intensity, if you fight for the ball, you’re in the game.”

PSG indeed showed more enthusiasm and Angel Di Maria opened the scoring in aggressive fashion, bursting into the area to connect at the near post with Juan Bernat’s cross. Gueye then burst through midfield to set up Di Maria for the second. Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was not at his best but Zidane brushed aside any criticism of the Belgian.

“It’s everybody’s fault. We win together, lose together,” he said.

Keylor Navas, who joined PSG this summer after five seasons as goalkeeper with Madrid, downplayed the win over his former club.

“I am very happy as we won, not because we beat Real Madrid. My teammates did a great job. I have no particular feelings against anybody with Real. I just want to enjoy this moment with my new club. Everybody here is motivated and I will defend PSG’s colours like I did Real’s before. I will give my best.

“I want to continue to write my own story. What I had with Real was beautiful. Today, here, it is a new project for me. I want to be happy here, make the mist of each moment and that my family feels good is absolutely vital.”

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Neuer vs. Ter Stegen: Bayern chief slams row

Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness has attacked the “west German press” for their failure to defend Manuel Neuer in his ongoing row with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and warned Germany to stick with the Bavarian side’s No. 1 ahead of the Barcelona goalkeeper.

Ter Stegen did not feature in Germany’s Euro 2020 qualifying double header against Netherlands and Northern Ireland, which he said was a “massive blow” — a comment Neuer responded to, describing it as not helpful.

The comments have ignited a debate in Germany over who should be the national No. 1, and this was further intensified after Ter Stegen saved a penalty for Barcelona in the 0-0 Champions League group stage draw with Borussia Dortmund.

In March, Germany boss Joachim Low announced then Bayern trio Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller would no longer be selected for the national side, and Hoeness said this latest situation is further proof of a national bias against his club.

“I think it’s a joke,” Hoeness said. “Especially the Munich press, it is not OK.

“The west German press act as if ter Stegen has already won 17 World Cups. But I don’t see anything from the south German press. No support. I think it is outrageous that you can push an issue like that into the public. Because he [Ter Stegen] is just not entitled to play there. Goalkeepers are different to outfield players. You cannot just switch back and forth all of the time.

“The hierarchy must be clear, and the hierarchy means Manuel Neuer is the No. 1. He has been the best in the world for many years and now he was ruled out for a while with an injury but it was clear that once he returned to form, and he’s done that now, there is just no discussion and only he can be the No. 1.

“And I had wished for more support from the German FA. They always put up a fuss. At first, the outrageous removal of the three players and how badly they were treated. And now the same all over again with Manuel Neuer.

“That you allow a teammate to go public for something he must only discuss with Jogi Low is not OK. We have a clear opinion and, in the future, we will not put up with our players being damaged without reason because Ter Stegen is a very good ‘keeper, but Manuel Neuer is just so much better and more experienced. There is just no discussion for anyone in the world to doubt that Manuel Neuer should be in goal here in Germany and I read today that maybe [only] until the European Championship.

“He can play as long as he stays healthy. He will always be the best. End of story. We will light up the folks at DFB [German FA]. We are good at that.”

Hoeness will leave his post as Bayern president after over 40 years at the club in November 2019

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Xavi: Sterling can be world’s best

The Manchester City winger is more advanced as a player than Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Mohamed Salah, according to the Barcelona legend.

Barcelona great Xavi believes Raheem Sterling is on course to emerge as the world’s best player when Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo leave centre stage. Manchester City star Sterling has started the new season in scintillating fashion, scoring eight times for club and country.

His goal return and overall effectiveness has markedly improved with Pep Guardiola’s guidance and the 24-year-old is now one of the first players chosen for the Premier League champions. Sterling won Europe’s Golden Boy award in 2014 – given to the continent’s brightest young talent – and Xavi thinks the England international is on course to replace Messi and Ronaldo at the front of the queue for further honours.

Xavi told The Mirror: “Messi is the best ever for me, and even though they’re both still playing at a very high level, there will come the day not so long away when somebody else must step into those shoes.

“You look at young players who can be crowned the future best in the world and you still think of Neymar, [Kylian] Mbappe, [Mohamed] Salah and of course Sterling. I look at the moment and Sterling is winning that race.

“He’s always been a good player, a dangerous player, but under Pep he [has] become one of the best in the world. I know how Pep works – he would have worked closely with him since his arrival – where he needs to improve and what he needed to work on. We’re now seeing the results of that. He’s still young and can be the world’s best.”

Barca captain Messi, 32, and Juventus forward Ronaldo, 34, have dominated the game’s top awards for the past decade, winning the Ballon d’Or five times apiece since 2008.

Sterling’s record in front of goal has improved a great deal since his time at Liverpool, and the England international has hit five Premier League goals from as many appearances for City so far this season, adding to last term’s impressive tally of 17 league goals from 34 games.


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Klopp: Napoli can win Champions League

The Reds boss was not in a good mood following Tuesday’s defeat in their European opener, but feels their opponents could win the competition. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says Napoli can win the Champions League, while backing the Reds to bounce back from their opening defeat in the competition.

Defending champions Liverpool were beaten 2-0 by hosts Napoli in a controversial Group E opener on Tuesday.

Dries Mertens converted an 82nd-minute penalty after Jose Callejon appeared to go down under minimal contact from Andy Robertson at Stadio San Paolo, where the referee’s decision was ratified by a VAR check, and Fernando Llorente sealed the win in stoppage time.

Klopp, whose side lost 1-0 to Napoli in last season’s group stage, was frustrated with the penalty decision afterwards and when asked about the Champions League chances of Carlo Ancelotti’s side, he said: “They can win the competition, that’s how it is.

“If you have a good plan, if you have good players, which is what they obviously have, then they can win the competition. We experienced that you don’t have to be the best team in the world to win the Champions League.

“You have to be in the right moment, you need to be lucky in some situations and when there’s only two guys in the room that think it’s a penalty you still have to accept that’s a penalty, but that’s all. They can win the competition, of course.”

Klopp was pressed as to whether Napoli were fresher and finished stronger than Liverpool due to Serie A starting later than the Premier League, and the German was not happy.

“Tonight, the questions are really a challenge, to be honest,” Klopp said. “I think the guy from Sky Italia asked me or told me Napoli was much better than us. I didn’t see that game, so I don’t know exactly where he was when the game happened.

“But now you say we were tired. Who had the cramps? Who was on the ground? Liverpool players or Napoli players? After the 2-0 they looked fresher than us, after the 1-0 they looked fresher than us – that’s normal. You have a boost. But there was no fresher team on the pitch. There was no physical problem apart from the normal physical problems in a game like this, which is very intense [because] both teams fight hard and all that stuff. It’s not a physical problem tonight.

“We have to finish the situations off. How everybody is in life, you need positive moments and you can run forever. We didn’t have really positive moments tonight. They obviously got the second air, so they could go again. That’s normal, but that was not the reason.”

Klopp added: “I hope it [the result] is not decisive. Give us at least a few more games to change the table. In the moment it looks like Napoli’s through, but we still will be playing. We will not stop.”

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Ronaldo on Messi: I deserve more Ballon d’Ors

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo has said he deserves to end his career with more Ballon d’Or awards than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and hopes to establish himself as the greatest player of all time.

Ronaldo, 34, has won the renowned France Football magazine trophy for the world’s best player five times — as many as Messi — but is eager for more as he moves into the twilight of his career.

“Messi’s in the history of football, but I think I have to have six or seven or eight to be above him,” he said, referring to the Ballon d’Or awards.

“I’d love it, I think I deserve it. “My relationship with him is, we are not friends, but we have shared this stage for 15 years,” Ronaldo said. “I know that he has pushed me to be a better player and I have pushed him to be a better player as well.”

Ronaldo, who also played for Manchester United and Real Madrid, has five Champions League winners’ medals and led Portugal to victory at the 2016 European Championship and 2019 Nations League tournaments.

“I don’t follow the records, the records follow me. I’m addicted to the success, and I don’t think it’s something bad, I think it’s good, It motivates me. If you’re not motivated, it’s better to stop.”

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‘Goal animal’ Ronaldo has Simeone on high alert

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone has called Juventus star Cristiano Ronaldo a “goal animal” ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League opener between the sides. Ronaldo, Real Madrid’s all-time goalscorer, scored a hat trick against Atletico to help Juve overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit and reach the quarterfinals of the competition last season.

“It’s difficult to play against him,” Simeone told a news conference when asked about Ronaldo. “He is a goal animal. He has achieved tremendous records. He has good aerial play, he has a great shot, he’s able to find spaces … any situation close to the area, he generates danger. We have suffered against him.”

Limiting Ronaldo will be Atletico’s priority.

“He is a great striker, he has shown it in the past and continues to do so,” Atletico defender Jose Maria Gimenez said. “But we are not focusing solely on Cristiano. In order for the ball to reach him, it first has to go through other players.

“You give Ronaldo half a chance and he scores. We have to limit him. The important thing is that we play well in all of our lines.”

Simeone does not want to rate Atletico’s chances in the competition and says time will tell how far his team can go.

“I always focus on the day to day but football is always football,” he said. “There are teams that arrive better prepared to this competition but then it’s what you do on the pitch that counts.

“We saw it last season with Ajax [who reached the semifinals]. The Champions League is dangerous. Any rival you face can generate problems. Tomorrow we are going to play against a very strong team, that shows a lot of personality. We will be better if we think we can hurt them. What we want is to improve and grow in the competition. We want the new players to adapt.”

Joao Felix is one of the new players that arrived at Atletico this summer for a club-record €126m from Benfica.

Asked if the Portuguese winger is under pressure to deliver, Gimenez said: “I was the same age when I joined Atletico as Joao Felix is now. You can see his quality and he is an important player for us. You can see that he wants to grow and you feel envious that he’s only 19.

“The future is in his hands. But the pressure is not on him but on those that have been here the longest. We have to help him because he is young. We will try to advise him because he already has the quality.”