Barcelona: “Fabregas will remain here.” Now what for Manchester United?

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Gerardo Martino has spoken loud and clear on the Cesc Fabregas to Manchester United rumors.

Cesc is going nowhere.

This morning “Tata” was asked about Fabregas’ availability after United apparently tabled yet another bid for the Spanish midfielder. Barca’s new manager has been in the job since Monday and this was his first strong statement.

“I’m not going to involve myself in the club’s accounts, but considering the club has already rejected two offers, I would guess it will reject a third,” Martino said. “In other words, Fabregas will remain here.”

There you have it folks, United have once again been led on a wild goose chase, as their summer of transfer inactivity continues.

And if Tata’s comments weren’t enough, Barcelona’s vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu was pretty emphatic about Fabregas staying at the Camp Nou.

“It doesn’t matter what any offer from Manchester United is – we’re not selling him. We’re counting on him. He’s not for sale,” Bartomeu said. “If there was a higher offer would we accept it? No. He’s a great player. It doesn’t bother us that Manchester United want him.”

(MORE: Is Moyes stubborn or silly when it comes to Cesc Fabregas?)

With that settled, we think, where do United and David Moyes turn now?

That is the big question. Considering their No.1 target won’t be prized away from Barcelona at any price, Moyes now has to turn his attention elsewhere. But where?

Could he nip back to his former club Everton and sign Marouane Fellaini? What about Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle? Or maybe even a big money move for Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale?

The last two aren’t going to happen. If those two superstars were on their way to United, it would’ve happened by now.

But deals for Fellaini and Cabaye are more likely, however they’re certainly a downgrade on Fabregas. No disrespect to those two players, because they’re full internationals and have shone in the PL in recent seasons. (Fellaini more than Cabaye) But do they really possess the quality to turn a Champions League game on its head?

(MORE: United make a second bid for Fabregas)

I think not. Moyes has aimed high in the transfer market and struck out. Sir Alex Ferguson has done the same in the past, two examples in my mind are Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne who turned down United and opted to go elsewhere.

Just because they’re Manchester United doesn’t mean they can handpick whoever they want. With Ferguson gone, other Premier League teams are becoming more attractive propositions. Chelsea and Manchester City are closing the gap on United’s alluring dominance as we speak.

Moyes will have a plan B after the Fabregas chase has left him at a dead end. But he must reassess his options and navigate his way through the treacherous and, so far, disappointing transfer market.

Fast.

Mark Hughes signs new long-term contract at Southampton

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Mark Hughes has gone from Stoke City outcast to Southampton savior in little under six months time.

The Welsh boss was let go from Stoke City with the Potters 18th in the table and headed towards eventual relegation, but he was picked up by fellow relegation candidates Southampton after the departure of Mauricio Pellegrino. He steered the club to safety, finishing three points above the drop in 17th.

With the Saints in the top flight for another season, the club has announced the signing of Hughes to a new three-year contract.

“Mark, Eddie and I are thrilled to have signed long-term contracts with the club. It was the only option we considered, having spent the last eight weeks with the club,” Hughes said of himself and his assistant coaches Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. “Now it is vital that we take the unbelievable support we received from the fans during the last few games into next season. The staff and the players will work hard every day to deliver the success this club deserves, and with everyone pulling together we will achieve our goals.”

Hughes guided Stoke City to three consecutive ninth-placed finishes, the highest the club had ever finished in the English top flight, but they finished 13th last year and regressed even further this campaign. The sale of playmaker Marko Arnautovic was particularly damaging, and the club scored just 35 goals in 38 games as a result.

At Southampton, Hughes took over a club that sat in 17th with just seven matches to go. He lost three in a row to start his tenure and only won one match with Saints the rest of the way, but managed to keep the club barely afloat.

Reports: Arsenal nearing deal for Lichtsteiner on free transfer

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According to multiple reports in England, including the BBC, Arsenal is looking to sign Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer this summer, potentially becoming the first signing under new manager Unai Emery.

Lichtsteiner is out of contract at Juventus this summer, having been with the club since 2011. Lichtsteiner has played in Italy since joining Lazio in 2008.

The Swiss international will captain his country at the World Cup this summer in Russia and will earn his 100th cap in his second match at the event.

[ MORE: Tottenham target trio ]

Lichtsteiner has been a mainstay in a Juventus squad that has won seven consecutive Serie A titles, but at 34 years old has been slowly phased out. He has made less than 30 Serie A appearances each of the last seasons, despite a nearly spotless bill of health since undergoing heart surgery in October of 2015. Last season, Lichtsteiner completed just nine full 90 minute performances, including just three after November. Lichtsteiner may have had an even smaller role this most recent campaign had Mattia de Sciglio not struggled with injuries for much of the season.

The Gunners have Hector Bellerin as the club’s main right-back, with the Spaniard leading the squad in total minutes played this past season. However, Bellerin’s level of performance has regressed considerably since proving one of the best young Premier League players in his first full season in 2015/16.

Lichtsteiner has also been linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, where Lukasz Piszczek mans the right-back spot, but talks between the clubs reportedly broke down.

Report: Lampard leading candidate to succeed Rowett as Derby County boss

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According to John Cross of the Daily Mirror, former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is in the pole position to win the Derby County managerial position left vacant after Gary Rowett left to take charge of Stoke City.

Lampard has been linked to a host of lower-league managerial jobs over the past six months, but has either resisted those offers or been passed over for other candidates. In January, Lampard confirmed he had interest from League One side Oxford United, but said he did not feel ready to begin his managerial career.

“I don’t know what the route will be – there are plenty of different routes to become a top manager and I am working there [at Chelsea with the U18s] now to get towards that,” Lampard said in January. “You can’t just step out of something and think you can become a manager, you have to practice a lot. Thankfully Chelsea and the academy are helping me get my hours in and I am watching training at certain Premier League clubs and studying as much as I can so down the line, I hope so [to become a manager one day].”

Just four days ago, Lampard was also mentioned in connection with the open Ipswich Town position, interviewing with the club twice according to Sky Sports.

Now, The Mirror says that Derby County is in the mix for Lampard, and that he is at the top of the club’s shortlist. Lampard, who sits as Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, has been working as a TV analyst since retiring in 2016 following a short move to Manchester City and a stint with MLS club NYCFC.

Derby has been competitive in the Championship for a number of seasons now, but the Rams have just missed out on Premier League promotion on numerous occasions. They finished sixth this past season but blew a 1-0 semifinal lead to Fulham after the first leg. They also lost in the playoff semifinals to Hull City back in 2016, and lost in the playoff final to QPR back in 2014 after a third-place finish in the table.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Fulham vs. Aston Villa

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Imagine playing in a single game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or at least another year in the lower leagues.

That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.

Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.

The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.

The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.

They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.

Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.

Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.