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Premier League festive roundtable – Part 1

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Just before the Premier League season hits a busy time with the festive schedule, it is time to reflect on what’s happened so far.

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Below Pro Soccer Talk’s writers discuss the stories of the season so far in Part 1 of our roundtable series while in Part 2, coming up on Dec. 25, we discuss what lies ahead in the second half of the season.

Feel free to get involved in the debate by adding your thoughts in the comments section below.


What has been your favorite moment of the Premier League season so far?

Joe Prince-Wright: A moment from the opening weekend of the season has stuck with me. When Diego Costa scored a late winner for Chelsea against West Ham United in Antonio Conte‘s first game in charge, the Italian coach went crazy right in front of me at Stamford Bridge. He jumped in with the fans to celebrate and the energy was completely different. From that moment Conte was accepted by Chelsea’s fans.

Nick Mendola: I’ll stick with on the field, as little Bradley Lowery’s day at Sunderland was amazing. We’ll go back to Arsenal-Liverpool on Opening Weekend. 4-3, including four second-half goals in 15 minutes and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain answered Sadio Mane’s 63rd minute goal within a minute. Wild.

Matt Reed: Although Bob Bradley gets a lot of the slack for Swansea’s struggles, the team’s comeback against Crystal Palace was not only my favorite moment thus far but my favorite match as well.

Kyle Bonn: I know this is a cop-out answer because it’s not a moment, but it has to be Chelsea’s amazing run. Their performances have been nothing short of stellar, and considering their poor season last year, the job Antonio Conte has done is so impressive.

Which team has surprised you most this season, so far, and why? And which player has come from nowhere to impress?

Joe: Watford. I know they’ve fallen off in recent weeks but I had no idea what to expect from the Hornets with a new manager and plenty of new players. Walter Mazzarri‘s side are difficult to beat and always hang in games. I think a top 10 finish is easily achievable for Watford. In terms of players, I think both Gaston Ramirez and Salomon Rondon have been superb. Ramirez had three seasons at Southampton were he struggled mightily but he’s found his feet at Middlesbrough. As for Rondon, he has the quality to play for a top six team. The chances he gets at West Brom are limited but he’s not settled and scoring goals.

Nick: In keeping with the holiday season, we’ll go with positive surprises. It’s West Brom for me, not just because the Baggies sit eighth, but also the 23 goals scored by Sadio Mane and company. As for players, I’m going to go with Cesar “Dave” Azpilicueta at Chelsea. I knew he was a talent, but he’s been shining in Antonio Conte’s set-up.

Matt: Leicester is an easy answer because it was always going to be difficult to repeat as champions, but I didn’t expect the Foxes to be in the relegation battle considering the squad they have brought back. Michail Antonio had a solid season in 2015/16 but outside of Dimitri Payet he’s been one of the lone sparks for West Ham. With seven goals already this season, Antonio is on pace to shatter his goal total from a season ago while also looking to help the Hammers stay up.

Kyle: To be honest, Chelsea. Who would have backed them to turn things around this fast? And while their team hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere, Eden Hazard‘s triumphant return has been somewhat surprising considering how abysmal he was last season. If you really want to go out of nowhere, Steve Cook of Bournemouth has been one of the most dynamic defenders in the PL this year.

Be honest, did you expect Leicester City to be in a relegation battle?

Joe: I didn’t want to believe it, but I thought it may be inevitable given their squad and how Claudio Ranieri was, understandably, loyal to the title-winning team. Coupled with the Champions League success (I have some issues with that because their group was very weak) it has led to taking their eye off the ball in the PL. I had them finishing 11th in my preseason prediction but I think they’ll be just above the relegation zone.

Nick: No, but I’m not entirely surprised. Somehow I doubt the fan base would trade their UEFA Champions League triumphs for a few more points on the table. We’re still in “once in a lifetime” territory until someone tells them otherwise.

Matt: In our preseason rankings I predicted Leicester would finish top 10 once again but winning the title was always going to be unrealistic. I never thought the Foxes would be in the relegation battle at this stage of the season considering the talent that Claudio Ranieri still has at his disposal.

Kyle: Did I expect them to be in a relegation battle? No. But I absolutely expected them to struggle at times. European play is a huge strain on clubs without the spending power to purchase top-level depth. They’ll be fine. They won’t be relegated. Don’t be shocked to see a late-season surge once they’re bounced from the Champions League.

Why hasn’t Pep Guardiola‘s tactics swept the Premier League before him? Is there an easy answer here?

Joe: No easy answer but the main issue has been in defense. Pep is forcing players to try and do something completely different than any other Premier League team. He wants his side to play out from the back and invite pressure in dangerous situations. Most PL clubs are extremely good at pressing high and pinning teams in. I think so far Guardiola has stuck to his principles admirably but he will have to tweak them, at least this season, if he wants to finish in the top four or challenge for the title. City doesn’t have the players fit and available to play the way he wants to in defense.

Nick: Can I be a little brash? John Stones may one day be Gerard Pique, but he certainly is nowhere near the standard right now. Claudio Bravo will settle into a groove at some point, but Joe Hart and (insert veteran CB here) would have City knocking on Chelsea’s door.

Matt: I think Guardiola takes a lot of flack because of the lofty expectations people have bestowed upon him in the past. The Premier League is one of the few leagues where even the champions typically suffer a rough spell at some point throughout the campaign and while City isn’t atop the table at this point they are still firmly in the title chase.

Kyle: His tactics don’t fit the PL. His gameplan is to possess teams to death and finish clinically. Problem is, his team hasn’t been able to finish as well as they should, and the Premier League is full of teams that embrace a bunker-and-counter mentality, and it’s frustrated a City team that doesn’t have a midfield destroyer to break up counters.

Jose Mourinho and Manchester United is gathering steam. What has impressed you most about them thus far?

Joe: I’ve been impressed with the way the players have pulled together to grind out results. Mourinho has chopped and changed the team but whoever has come in looks like they want to fight for the shirt. With his off-field antics leading to bans and fines, Mourinho is also creating a siege mentality. Although I don’t condone that kind of behavior, I think it has worked wonders to get the players on his side early on in his reign at Old Trafford.

Nick: I love when an egomaniacal star backs up his bluster, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the truth. But the way Mourinho has maneuvered talent like Juan Mata and Ander Herrera while dealing with the guff the press and fans love to give him has been a fascinating thing to follow. Hes not done half bad.

Matt: Has to be the team’s persistence. Even though Mourinho and United have had plenty of struggles thus far, they are finding their form and it’s still early enough in the season where they can make up ground in the title race.

Kyle: Their ability to get Zlatan consistently in the attack is impressive. He’s one of their only finishers, and yet they consistently have him involved. Hard to do when teams are gameplanning around him.

Conversely, where do they need to improve to challenge for titles again?

Joe: Up front. If Zlatan has an off day, I struggle to see who else can step in to deliver the goals. Martial, Rashford and Rooney aren’t the most clinical so I think if United can get in another predatory finisher in January, they should do it. They create so many chances and were hurt badly during that run of four home draws where they should’ve won each game.

Nick: More consistent play on the outside would help, from back to wings.

Matt: United still lacks a compliment to Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front. Even though the backline has gone through its share of injuries this season it’s the attack that has disappointed me the most.

Kyle: They need better defensive reliability if they are going to shut down once they have a one-goal lead.

Let’s talk about United’s rivals Liverpool. Is this what we expected from Jurgen Klopp? Can they mount a serious title challenge with a creaking defense?

Joe: You can see this is a Klopp team from the first whistle of every game they play. It has taken 12 months but the players are all-in and Klopp is ready to push for a title push. The defensive issues are concerning but they’re capable of scoring three or four goals every game. I think they can go all the way.

Nick: This is almost exactly what I expected from Klopp, to a T. They can challenge for a title, but look more like a lower top four contender on the whole right now.

Matt: Coming into the season I figured the backline would be porous but I still believe Liverpool can make a legitimate run at the title because of how strong the attack is.

Kyle: Well, no, but they’ve weathered the storm so far, and it hasn’t reared its head too strong. If Klopp doesn’t strengthen in January, it will eventually cause title-breaking problem.

While we’re on the subject of title contenders, Chelsea sits top at Christmas with a six point lead. Is that more to do with new manager Antonio Conte? Or more about Chelsea’s players getting their act together?

Joe: It’s both but you can’t underestimate Conte’s impact. Like I mentioned before, from day one he’s been a breath of fresh air. He eased himself in too, playing a back four and then switching to a back three for this incredible run of 11-straight wins. Conte let the players have a voice and then said ‘okay, now, let’s do it my way.’ It has worked, masterfully. We all knew the talent was there for Chelsea. Now they have a leader they believe in. Somewhere Jose Mourinho is shaking his head in disbelief.

Nick: Last season was embarrassing for Chelseas players, who bailed on Jose Mourinho and then yawned their way through an improved run under Guus Hiddink. I think Conte’s been given the keys to the kingdom in terms of manager vs. player power, and adding N’Golo Kante cannot be understated. So, a mix of both.

Matt: I think it’s a combination of things but there’s no question that the players love playing for Conte in the system that he has implemented. Even when Chelsea was winning games before the 3-4-3 switch they were far less convincing than now. That doesn’t even mean scoring a lot of goals but more so how strong they look defensively.

Kyle: It’s both. Hazard had come to life again, and this team was always going to revert back to a dominant state, but Conte had to be lauded for his immediate impact when Pep and Mourinho have struggled with their new teams.

Arsenal and Tottenham are the other title contenders. Which north London club has impressed you more so far, and why?

Joe: Very close call. Tottenham are gathering steam in the PL but crashing out in the Champions League group stage was a huge disappointment. Arsenal has Bayern Munich in the UCL knockouts and is starting to stall in the PL. It’s about what you’d expect from both clubs. I’m a hard man to please, but if I had to pick one team I’d say Arsenal because Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez (despite their contract negotiations) are on fire. If they can stay red-hot, Arsenal has a chance to challenge for the title should Chelsea stumble.

Nick: Arsenal. Tottenhams defense is fine, but there’s something missing from their mix. Right now, it’s probably simply Harry Kane reminding his form, but for a while it was just “Wait for Dembele to return”. Arsenal’s recent “stumbles” aside — there’s nothing wrong with losing to Everton — Arsene Wenger is pushing most of the right buttons, the Shkrodan Mustafa transfer is an unqualified success, and Theo Walcott is for the moment delivering. Gooners can feel good enough right now.

Matt: I’d say Arsenal because of the injuries they’ve gone through this season but their form of late has been far too poor for me to consider them title contenders.

Kyle: Easily Arsenal. Tottenham has struggled on all front for weeks now, and their form is worrying. The Gunners are a mentally weak side, but seem the stronger team of the two.

From what you’ve seen so far, are there any teams aside from the current top six who will challenge for a top four spot?

Joe: Not really. At this point I think the traditional top six are locked in after their big spending and managerial changes over the summer. They finally got their act together. Southampton and Everton could push them, but Everton would need to address the defensive issues and Saints need to find more goals. Neither of those problems are easily to fix midway through the season, no matter how much you spend in January.

Nick: I wouldve said Everton, but the Yannick Bolasie is a hammer blow to their attack. Unless Ross Barkley turns it around, I expect the current Top Six to be the sextet we hear from all season (Again, I worry about Spurs).

Matt: I think Everton could be in the mix for top six if Ronald Koeman regroups his side. With one of the PL’s top scorers in Romelu Lukaku, I believe the Toffees have enough offensive firepower in order to contend.

Kyle: No.

The relegation battle is a bit of a mess right now. Which team down there have you been most disappointed with?

Joe: Crystal Palace. Now without Alan Pardew, this could go south fast. With Christian Benteke and Yohan Cabaye, I’m seeing players who are on big money not stepping up to the plate and delivering. The fans at Selhurst Park are superb and they deserve more. It was a shame to see Pardew go because everyone wanted him to be the hero to lead them into a new era but it wasn’t to be. Now, it’s all about survival and if Sam Allardyce comes in you can expect direct soccer to return. Luckily they have the wingers and Benteke to implement that style. Still, incredibly disappointing.

Nick: Leicester is the easy answer, and I’m going to not count West Ham (who I’m not worried about in terms of relegation). I’ll go with Palace, who has been fun to watch with the ball (although why is Andros Townsend on the bench so often?!?) but miserable in defense. Every game is, “We deserved better”, which was a bit too comfortable coming out of Alan Pardew’s mouth.

Matt: Hull. After the way the team started the season it looked like Mike Phelan‘s side was going to be able to rally around him but the Tigers simply don’t have the attacking support necessary to win matches on a consistent basis.

Kyle: Hull looks the most likely to go down, but I’ve been very disappointed with Swansea. Their squad is poorly constructed, but I would not have thought it was relegation quality, and they followed up an energizing win over Sunderland with a return to more dumpster-fire performances.

Bob Bradley’s had a tough time thus far at Swansea. What have you made of his start to life in the Premier League? Is the American getting a rough deal?

Joe: I think he deserves until the end of the season before we can pass judgement. Swansea’s owners should look at Aston Villa last season and other relegated clubs in the past. Having three or four managers in a season doesn’t work. Swansea has improved in certain games and looked shocking in others. That all comes with a new system and new players playing together after a new manager comes in. Bradley has had 10 games at this point. He probably should have won three or four with the performances but has won twice. The defensive mistakes are the biggest issue to address in January and as for the scrutiny about him being the first-ever American coach in the Premier League, Bradley can handle that.

Nick: Fine enough in attack, but the back line is a total nightmare. For now, I’m 100 percent willing to pin their awfulness down to a poor offseason. Letting Ashley Williams walk without a serious replacement shows the board needed to give a bit more authority to Francesco Guidolin (or resist the urge to keep him on altogether). Bob Bradley deserves a transfer window, no doubt. His backs are a nightmare. Federico Fernandez is lost without a decent CB next to him, and Jordi Amat has made some baffling decisions.

Matt: I think it’s really unfair to place a hefty amount of the blame on Bradley given the team he’s working with. Swansea lost its top scorer before the season even began when Andre Ayew left for West Ham, and the club did very little to replace him. It’s going to be a season likely full of more downs than ups but I believe Bradley has a future in the Premier League as manager whether it’s with the Swans or another club.

Kyle: The American *was* getting a rough deal, and walked into a difficult situation, but now his performances in the last few weeks have become harder and harder to defend.

From what you’ve seen so far, which team and player is the most underrated in the Premier League as we enter the halfway point?

Joe: As for the team, I think Southampton has been written off by many people too early. I expect them to have a strong second half of the season. As for the players, I would say Ander Herrera at Manchester United doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He’s been influential in United’s recent good run.

Nick: As crazy as it sounds, I think the a right answer might be Manchester United (and my second submission would’ve been Chelsea!). The Red Devils have generated loads of chances and will be much improved once its CB health is improved. But I’m going to give a more under-the-radar answer and say two South Coast teams in Bournemouth and Southampton. Eddie Howe continues to a magnificent job with the nascent PL Cherries, while Ralph Krueger’s Saints continue to weather the cherry-picking (pun intended) of their talent each year.

Matt:I don’t think Southampton has earned enough credit this season, even after having had a strong campaign in 2015-16. The Saints have had trouble finishing off chances in the attack but have been one of the most defensively sound teams in the PL.

Kyle: I would say Bournemouth but they’re getting the recognition they deserve. The most underrated team is probably Southampton, who can expect an uptick in form now that Europe is in the rear view mirror. Unless they lose Van Djik or Fonte in January. Then maybe not.

Who will be the winners in Virgil van Dijk situation?

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The situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk is fast becoming the transfer saga of the summer in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chicharito to West Ham ]

Last week Southampton’s captain told his manager Mauricio Pellegrino that he wants to leave the club and he has now been told to train on his own back in England while Saints are on tour in France.

Van Dijk, 26, has been chased by Liverpool but Jurgen Klopp‘s men were forced to issue a public apology in early June stating that would “end their interest” in the player following a complaint from Southampton to the Premier League about an alleged illegal approach.

For most of preseason VVD has trained with Saints but the first warning signs arrived on their last trip to Austria where he did not play in their preseason friendly as he was said to be still recovering from a foot injury he suffered in January.

Now the Dutch international center back is effectively on strike at Southampton but with a $70 million pricetag around his neck and Liverpool, his preferred destination, seemingly out of the picture, he doesn’t have a lot of options. Chelsea and Manchester City were said to be interested but they have spent big elsewhere on defenders, so it’s Liverpool or bust for van Dijk.

Now that he’s an outcast at Southampton, many would suggest that’s that for van Dijk at Saints. Hold your horses.

As often as Southampton have sold star players over the past five seasons (Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne to name a few) they’ve also held firm when they wanted to. They insist van Dijk is not for sale and have done so since late last season season when Pro Soccer Talk spoke to their chairman Ralph Krueger.

“We do not need to sell a player this summer,” Krueger said. “Any transfer in and out now will be to increase the quality of the squad and do what is best for the club. I have to tell you, straight up, we do not have to sell anybody. We will do our best to retain the core, solidify the core and move with some synergy into next season.”

With past players Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane, they were all told to give Saints one more season before moving on to some of the biggest clubs in the world in Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool respectively. They did that and had their best seasons in a Southampton shirt knowing they were in the shop window and great play would help shape their future.

Could the same happen with van Dijk? This situation is slightly different but Saints have no interest whatsoever in selling him.

The Dutchman signed a new five-year contract last summer and has been named team captain following his impressive displays since arriving from Celtic in the summer of 2015, plus he also signed on with a new agent over the summer. He is the face of this team and settling back into the squad and being accepted by fans just a few weeks after stating he did not want to play for the club won’t be easy.

An added layer to all of this is that it’s Liverpool involved, the club who has bought more Southampton players than any other over the past four seasons, plus some of Liverpool’s club legends have spoken in the media and told Van Dijk to go on strike. Animosity levels are high.

It’s unlikely van Dijk will be adored by Southampton’s fans anytime soon, and if he leaves he will booed and jeered just like Lallana and Lovren who reportedly pushed for a move away in 2014 and are still given that treatment every time they touch the ball from Saints’ fans.

Van Dijk’s name was sung loudly at every Southampton game and he is the one true world-class player they possess. They still possess him, but the dilemma for Saints here is do they buckle to pressure and sell him or do they keep hold of van Dijk and hope he changes his mind and wants to play for the club again?

If he doesn’t do the latter he will rot in the reserves while being one of the top earners at the club. Nobody wants that. Not van Dijk. Not Southampton. Nobody. But Saints can live with it if they have to.

That’s why they will hold out and hope that time away from the team will sway VVD’s mind into sticking around and help them push for another top 10 finish under new manager Pellegrino.

It is tough to stand in the way of a player when a team can offer him UEFA Champions League action and his talent clearly deserve that, but if Southampton don’t want to sell him, why should they?

Many would suggest player power is at an all-time high in the PL with contracts not worth the piece of paper they’re written on. Yet if you look around the league there are similar situations playing out at mid-sized clubs who are now benefiting financially from the PL’s riches and have no need to sell their stars to fund new signings and other projects.

Swansea are holding on to Gylfi Sigurdsson despite his refusal to go on their U.S. tour. Leicester aren’t prepared to sell Riyad Mahrez on the cheap despite his public declaration he wants to leave. And then there’s Southampton who don’t want, or need, to sell van Dijk.

Yes, Southampton are playing hardball and their manager Pellegrino has taken the drastic action to cut van Dijk from first-team training for the foreseeable future, but what else could they do? If it was any other player wanting to leave they would do the same.

Speaking to local journalists from the Daily Echo last week about his decision, Pellegrino summed up the situation, and his strong stance, perfectly.

“The club was clear. The club told me they will not sell Virgil,” Pellegrino said. “I translated the idea of the club to the player and for me it was easy because I had to manage the dynamic of the team. Now he is not involved with the team because psychologically he is not 100 per cent. If you are not 100 per cent with the team I need to work with the players who are 1000 per cent to defend Southampton. It’s easy for me.”

These situations are never fun for anyone involved but van Dijk now has a decision to make. Southampton have made theirs and he is not for sale.

It’s now up to van Dijk to accept that or continue to refuse to play to force a move away. It may eventually happen later in this window or even in January, but he will lose not only playing time but respect from all corners.

Chelsea lose to Bayern Munich in Singapore

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Bayern Munich beat Chelsea 3-2 in an entertaining Inernational Champions Cup clash in Singapore on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Real Madrid?

The German giants struck three times in the first half four with Rafinha opening the scoring and Thomas Muller grabbing two for himself.

Antonio Conte‘s side were stunned but pulled back a goal just before half time with Marcos Alonso hammering home. New $95 million signing Alvaro Morata made his Chelsea debut in the second half but it was Michy Batshuayi who scored his second goal in as many preseason games to make it 3-2.

Next up for Chelsea is a game against Inter Milan in Singapore on Saturday before they head back to the UK for the Community Shield against Arsenal at Wembley on Aug. 6.

Chelsea went behind early on as Rafinha put the German champions 1-0 up with a low shot from the right which took two bounces and skipped inside the far post and past Thibaut Courtois.

Soon it got worse for Chelsea as Muller scored twice in quick succession, the first a volley from Franck Ribery’s fine cross, the second a brilliant curling effort from over 25 yards out to give the Germans a 3-0 lead with just 27 minutes on the clock.

Chelsea improved before half time with Conte’s men creating chances on the break and Alonso then smashed home Victor Moses‘ cross as the Blues trailed 3-1 at the interval.

Both teams soon made subs with Kingsley Coman replacing Robert Lewandowski for Bayern, plus David Luiz came on for Andreas Christensen and Alvaro Morata made his Chelsea debut, replacing the impressive Jeremie Boga.

Gary Cahill then denied James Rodriguez with a great block but Chelsea couldn’t find a way back into the game as Morata lined up on the left of a front three with Michy Batshuayi in the middle.

Batshuayi went close to pulling another goal back but couldn’t get on the end of a cross, then James’ twice went close for Bayern but Courtois denied him.

Luiz hit the post for Chelsea late on and then Batshuayi finished after Morata’s flick on from a Cesc Fabregas corner to make it 3-2, but the west London club couldn’t grab an equalizer and tasted defeat for the first time in preseason after beating Arsenal 3-0 in their opening last weekend.

PHOTOS: Man City reveal stunning new away kit for 2017-18

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Is it pink? Is it maroon? Let’s go with cerise…

Whatever color it is, Manchester City have a bold look for their new away kit for the 2017-18 season.

[ MORE: New PL kits for 2017-18 season

City revealed their new jersey on Tuesday with Pep Guardiola‘s men taking on Real Madrid in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Plenty of new names will be on the back of these jerseys with Guardiola making five big-money signings so far this summer with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo, Ederson and Bernardo Silva all arriving for a total of $265 million.

Here’s the new away kit they’ll be wearing next season.

 

Report: Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid for $208 million

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Reports in Spain say Real Madrid have agreed a fee of $200 million for Monaco teenager Kylian Mbappe.

[ MORE: Chicharito to Hammers ]

Marca claims that the two-time reigning European champions have agreed the fee with Monaco just days after the French champs made a formal complaint to FIFA about illegal approaches towards Mbappe and his representatives.

Per the report Mbappe will sign a six-year deal and earn $8.1 million net per year at the Santiago Bernabeu.

If it went through the transfer would be a clear world-record by almost doubling the fee Manchester United paid Juventus for Paul Pogba last summer, however via Sky Sports in the UK, Monaco have denied any deal has been agreed for Mbappe.

Mbappe, 18, burst onto the scene last season, scoring 26 goals as Monaco won Ligue 1 and reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals.

After selling Bernardo Silva and Benajamin Mendy to Manchester City for a combined total of $123 million, plus Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea for another $55 million, Leonardo Jardim is seeing his talented squad ripped apart.

That said, the likes of Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and until this point Mbappe are still around at the Stade Louis II.

Mbappe has been chased by Manchester City, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Real all summer long with the powerful, pacey French international able to lead the line and finish clinically when given the chance.

He is mature beyond his years but this bid from Real seems outrageous after just one season in the spotlight for Mbappe.

That said, Zidane’s men have offloaded plenty of talent this summer with Danilo and Alvaro Morata sold, plus James Rodriguez sent on loan to Bayern Munich for two years. The departures of Morata and Rodriguez suggest space has been opened up for Mbappe’s arrival.

Given his form last season he would certainly flourish at Real and with Cristiano Ronaldo now 32 and Karim Benzema 29, the Spanish champs have to start planning for the future.