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Southampton in no rush over potential Chinese takeover


SOUTHAMPTON — Ahead of one of the biggest games in club history, it has been reported that Southampton is at the center of interest from a Chinese company about a potential $250 million takeover.

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Southampton host Italian giants Inter Milan at St Mary’s in a crucial Europa League Group K clash on Thursday, but plenty of talk in the buildup to that game has been about a possible change in ownership at the club.

According to a report by Bloomberg news agency, a six week period of exclusivity has already begun between current owner Katharina Liebherr with Chinese company Lander Sports Development. It has been reported that a $250 million price tag has been put on the club, however it is believed Liebherr is keen to find out more about Lander’s intentions.

ProSoccerTalk understands that Liebherr is not openly looking to sell the club and will not offload Southampton in a hurry. We also understand that no deal for the club is imminent and no more news should be expected in the next 7-10 days.

[ MORE: 7,000 Saints fans take over Milan ]

It is also clear that Liebherr won’t sell the ambitious Southampton unless she believes it can move forward substantially under any new ownership. However, like any Premier League team, if significant investment is promised from an outside source then it would be in the best interests of the club to find out more details.

In recent years Katharina has turned down many opportunities to sell the club to foreign investors which would’ve made her a huge profit. Yet every time an opportunity arose to cash in, her reason for not selling up was simply because she felt it wasn’t in Southampton’s best interests.

As of right now it is unsure whether or not Liebherr would instead consider investment from Lander, which could see her sell shares in the club to the Chinese investors, rather than selling up completely. But with the club rising to the upper echelons of the Premier League and money pouring in via lucrative TV and sponsorship deals, many other potential investors will sit up and take notice.

Liebherr was left the club by her late father Markus who saved Saints from the brink of extinction back in 2009. After Markus passed away in 2010, Katharina’s heart has remained with the team and at a club awards dinner last season she was emotional as fans paid tribute to her father (one fan even had Markus’ face tattooed on his arm, which  Katharina loved) and the connection is incredibly strong as she often jets in from her home in Switzerland to attend games.

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) Marcelo Brozovic of FC Internazionale competes for the ball with Oriol Romeu of Southampton FC during the UEFA Europa League match between FC Internazionale Milano and Southampton FC at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Milan, . (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Southampton has come a long way since Liebherr purchased them as a third-tier team for around $22 million in 2009 with significant investment in the playing squad, infrastructure and the marvelous training facilities at the Staplewood campus nestled in The New Forest. They are likely to be a very valuable proposition after finishing in sixth-place last season in the Premier League and are competing in the UEFA Europa League this campaign, plus their famed youth academy had made them tens of millions of pounds in profit over the years. Taking all of that into account, the valuation of $250 million seems a little low.

As for potential investors, foreign money has poured into English soccer in recent years with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Bournemouth either fully owned or part-owned by wealthy American investors, plus Manchester City is owned by Abu Dhabi based Sheikh Mansour, reigning PL champs Leicester City are owned by Thailand’s Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Chelsea is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Premier League side West Bromwich Albion (plus Midlands rivals Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City who are in the second tier) are all now owned by Chinese companies and Hull City is currently in the final proceedings of a Chinese takeover.

So, who is the investor said to be lining up a bid for Saints?

Gao Jisheng is the leading man at Lander. The founder, chairman and CEO built the company on property deals and along with his daughter Jingna he owns a 59 percent stake of Lander. The company was valued at $1.4 billion last June by Forbes and over the past year it has switched from being a company focusing on real estate to one focusing on sports.

The rhetoric of China’s president may have something to do with that change in business direction.

President Xi Jinping of China has called on the nation to embrace the global game and become a “world football superpower” after putting the game on the national curriculum for schoolchildren.

He has also pumped plenty of resources into soccer infrastructure in the nation, the Chinese Super League is attracting star players from around the world with huge pay checks and the likes of Manchester City have also sold a stake in the club to Chinese investors plus plenty of other European teams (Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Nice, Espanyol and Granada to name a few) have seen a sudden influx of investment from China.

It seems like Southampton may be the latest to benefit from China’s growing soccer obsession.

UCL, Live: Chelsea v. Bayern; Napoli v. Barcelona

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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League is back and the Round of 16 games continue this week as Chelsea host Bayern Munich and Barcelona head to Napoli in what should be two epic battles.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

This is arguably the biggest test yet for Frank Lampard‘s Chelsea youngsters as they face the German giants Bayern who are in imperious form in Europe and have Robert Lewandowski leading their charge. What Chelsea lack in experience they make up for in talent and despite some attacking injuries, Lampard will be keen to take the game to Bayern at Stamford Bridge. Given Chelsea’s defensive flaws so far this season, their best form of defense is attack.

Lampard knows Chelsea must lock down Lewandowski and his battle with Antonio Rudiger is one, among many, we are really looking forward to.

[ MORE: Which Premier League team(s) will reach last eight? ]

Elsewhere, Barcelona warmed up for their big trip to Napoli in fine style as Lionel Messi scored four times in a thumping win against Eibar in La Liga on Saturday. Messi, 32, will be Barca’s main men in the cauldron that is the Estadio San Paolo and despite their patchy form in Serie A, Gennaro Gatusso’s Napoli are a dangerous proposition in the Champions League. Especially at home in Naples.

Below is the full schedule for the two UCL last 16 first leg games on Tuesday, with bothgames kicking off at 3 p.m. ET. You can follow the action live by clicking on the link above.

Tuesday Champions League action

Chelsea v. Bayern Munich
Napoli v. Barcelona

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings are here and there are new faces pushing their way into the upper echelons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Stars from Premier League giants Liverpool, Man United, Arsenal, Man City and Wolves dominate our power rankings after some impressive performances and there are plenty of new entries and plenty of players from the same teams.

[ MORE: Club Power Rankings

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.

1. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
2. Diogo Jota (Wolves) – New entry
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) – Up 16
4. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) – New entry
5. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Up 6
6. Richarlison (Everton) – Up 1
7. Dwight McNeil (Burnley) – New entry
8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 2
9. Moussa Djenepo (Southampton) – New entry
10. Bukayo Saka (Arsenal) – Down 5
11. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – New entry
12. Bruno Fernandes (Man United) – Up 4
13. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) – Down 9
14. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Even
15. Martin Dubravka (Newcastle) – New entry
16. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Down 4
17. Harry Maguire (Man United) – Down 9
18. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – Down 12
19. Stuart Armstrong (Southampton) – New entry
20. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – Down 7

Key battles: Chelsea v. Bayern; Real Madrid v. Man City

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Two Premier League teams play in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 this week as Chelsea host Bayern Munich and Man City head to Real Madrid in the first legs.

Which battles will determine the outcome of these games?

[ MORE: Predicting the UCL last 16 encounters ]

Below we take a look at three crucial head-to-head clashes which will be pivotal in deciding which teams will reach the quarterfinals.

Chelsea v. Bayern Munich

Antonio Rudiger v. Robert Lewandowski: The former has become a real threat from set pieces for Chelsea but his main role will be to stop the most lethal striker in Europe this season in Lewandowski’s. Bayern’s target man is ageing like a fine French win and has 40 goals to his name in all competitions for club and country. Chelsea’s defense has struggled at times this season and Lewa must be licking his chops in anticipation as he tries to win his first-ever Champions League title.

Jorginho v. Thiago Alcantara: Two pass-masters in central midfield will be a joy to watch. Jorginho has a more defensive role to play with N’Golo Kante out and the Italian will look to deliver perfectly weighted passes to get Chelsea’s attack going. As for Thiago, his vision works really well alongside some of Bayern’s more defensive midfielders and he is so assured in possession. The Spanish international has class on the ball and he and Jorginho are very similar. What a battle this should be.

Reece James v. Alphonso Davies: This is a battle we should all look forward to. Canadian star Davies has been a revelation at left back for Bayern and is encouraged to steam ahead and join in attacks whenever he can. James does exactly the same for Chelsea and has made the position his own in his debut season in the Premier League. These two players will be around at the top level and playing in the Champions League for a very long time and you can expect incisive runs up and down as they go head-to-head.

Real Madrid v. Man City

Casemiro v. Kevin De Bruyne: This will be one heck of a job for Real’s Brazilian destroyer. Of course, Casemiro can play too but his main role will be to shut down Kevin de Bruyne who has been in imperious form for Man City in recent weeks. When KDB is fit and firing on all cylinders he is almost unstoppable and he is a player who continues to be linked with a move to Real this summer amid the uncertainty over Man City’s two-season European ban.

Sergio Ramos v. Sergio Aguero: The master of the dark arts against the master of finishing will be fascinating viewing. The Sergio’s will put on a show and Aguero will fancy his chances of wriggling past Ramos and being the hero. That said, how many times have we written off Ramos in the past? The Real Madrid and Spain skipper seems to always find a way of coming out on top but he will be stretched to his limits as his Real defense try to put out fires all over the place with Aguero, KDB and Raheem Sterling or Gabriel Jesus popping up.

Karim Benzema v. Aymeric Laporte: The latter has been influential since his return from injury and his absence is the main reason Man City are so far behind Liverpool in the Premier League title race. Benzema’s physicality could cause Laporte some issues and like Ramos, he is underrated for a player who has been pivotal in winning four Champions League titles with Real Madrid. Laporte is good on the ball and Benzema’s clever turns and flicks means this battle will be more about brains than brawn.

Lyon-Juventus gets green light despite virus concerns

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LYON, France (AP) French club Lyon says its sold-out Champions League home game against Juventus will go ahead as planned on Wednesday despite the coronavirus outbreak in nearby Italy.

Lyon said in a statement on Tuesday it received the go-ahead from French authorities for the match to take place “in its initial configuration.”

Up to 3,000 Juventus fans coming from different regions of Italy are expected to attend Groupama Stadium for the last-16, first-leg match.

The fast-spreading virus from China has led to the postponement of Serie A games in northern Italy, where a cluster of the COVID-19 disease has caused seven deaths and towns to be locked down.

Health Minister Olivier Veran told RTL radio on Tuesday that France is not considering closing its border with Italy, nor banning big gatherings of people because it would not make sense.

Asked specifically about the Lyon-Juventus match, Veran said: “Should we ban gatherings? Should we stop the (Paris) Fashion Week? Should we stop matches? Should we close universities? The answer is no.”

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