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Edwin van der Sar says Ajax defender de Ligt will move to England or Spain

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Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar has spoken after the Dutch club’s shocking late defeat to Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals, and said he believes the end is near for 19-year-old captain Matthijs de Ligt at his boyhood club.

According to the Ajax chief executive, de Ligt is most likely to move to a big club in Spain or England. Speaking to Sky Sports Italia as quoted by Goal.com, van der Sar said, “I think these will be De Ligt’s final games with Ajax, but I hope he goes out on a high. He’s been here since he was a child and will end up at a big club. I think he’ll go to England or Spain.”

[ MORE: Paying tribute to a memorable Ajax run ]

De Ligt has set all kinds of marks at his young age, adding to his value this summer. He is the youngest ever in Ajax history to reach 100 appearances for the club, a crowning achievement given Ajax’s history as a developer of young talent. He is the club’s youngest-ever captain, and the first defender ever to win the Golden Boy award for Europe’s best player under 21 years old.

The 19-year-old has been linked to the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, and Juventus over the past month or two, and his future remains wide open. The team that seems to make the most sense would be Barcelona, where his current Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong is already confirmed to be headed at the end of the season. The Barcelona back line is in serious flux, with 32-year-old Gerard Pique seemingly starting to decline, while Samuel Umtiti struggled with injuries and Clement Lenglet failed to consistently perform.

Manchester City is always a player for top talent with the money it possesses, and they could look to de Ligt to replace an aging Vincent Kompany, but he may not want to compete with fellow youngsters in John Stones and Aymeric Laporte for playing time. Manchester United could absolutely use a defender of de Ligt’s youth and caliber, but their lack of Champions League play could put them at a disadvantage. Liverpool would love to have an international teammate to partner with fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk, especially with injuries decimating the back line this season which left Joel Matip as a consistent starter.

The one team shattered by this statement would be Juventus, who would be considered a major player with Giorgio Chiellini now at 34 years old and Leonardo Bonucci at 32. Also not helping Juve is de Ligt’s agent Mino Raiola being given a three-month transfer ban in Italy, which would cover this summer’s window. Raiola said he is appealing.

Van der Sar also said the club will do its best to keep head coach Erik ten Hag, with the former Bayern reserve boss now a wanted man after the Champions League run. “We intend to keep hold of Ten Hag, that is our intention,” van der Sar said. “We know there will be a lot of changes within the squad, but we’d at least like to confirm the coaching staff.”

Much of this will have to wait until the season concludes, as Ajax continues to battle for the Eredivisie title as well as the KNVB Beker trophy to wipe away the tears of the Champions League collapse.

Man City wins, loses KDB, Stones (video)

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  • De Bruyne injured on contested dribble
  • Mahrez scores winner off bench
  • Cherries out-attemped by 23-0 margin

Manchester City didn’t have too many issues with control in a 1-0 win at Bournemouth, but will be worried after Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones left the field early at the Vitality Stadium.

Both players did not leave the stadium and finished the match on the bench, in what may be a hopeful sign.

Riyad Mahrez scored the goal as City moved atop the Premier League table by two points ahead of Sunday’s Merseyside Derby.

Bournemouth remains 12th, with 34 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Cherries were stout in the first half, especially impressive given the youth in their back line.

And perhaps their odds improved when both John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne were forced off due to injuries, the latter occurring during an uncontested dribble.

A substitute put Pep Guardiola‘s men ahead, with Riyad Mahrez bundling over the line from a tight angle.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Sergio Aguero seemed the best bet to double the lead, but the match hit its final 20 minutes still 1-0.

Artur Boruc made a fine intervention when Raheem Sterling was sprung 1v1 via a defensive error, and Mahrez hit a half-volley a mile over the goal.

Man City’s Kyle Walker was fortunate to remain in the game after a hard sliding challenge on Joshua King.

Boruc was again the man to make a great reflex save on an 86th minute corner kick.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Pep Guardiola’s latest success story: John Stones

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Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning of this story features a bumbling fool of a defender, and an expensive one at that. The beginning of this story also features a bumbling fool of a soccer writer. That would be me.

*record scratch* You’re probably wondering how I got here. Let me explain.

The first tweet above refers to a goal Jermaine Defoe scores for Sunderland (remember them?) on the opening day of the 2016/17 season. Manchester City won the game 2-1, but it wasn’t Stones’ best moment since arriving at Manchester City just four days prior. Jack Rodwell receives the ball about 23 yards from goal, and Stones steps to close him down, leaving acres of space behind him. Bacary Sagna (remember him?) does poorly to stay with his man Defoe, but the Sunderland poacher immediately occupies the space vacated by Stones and scores on the through-ball which the England defender fails to prevent.

Mistakes like this were all too common for Stones, who cost a heaping $64 million from Everton. He was still just 21 years old at the time, and looked completely lost. He was billed as a defender who could play with the ball at his feet and thus would fit perfectly into Pep Guardiola‘s system. Man City’s own club release announcing the signing referred to him as “one of the world’s most promising centre backs” and specifically mentioned “Stones has built a reputation as a ball-playing, 21st century defender, equally adept at neutralizing opposition attacks as launching the first key pass out of the defensive third.”

None of that was evident at the start. I jumped to conclusions.


Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The middle features just two words: Pep Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola has morphed John Stones into one of the world’s best central defenders at just 24 years old. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end of this story is not yet written, but there is an outline for sure. John Stones, the bumbling 21-year-old who made countless positional mistakes and looked hopelessly lost in Pep Guardiola’s system, is now one of the world’s best central defenders. No, that’s not a hyperbole. He’s a strong Team of the Season candidate and one of the first names on the teamsheet of one of the Premier League’s best-ever constructed squads. Adding to the resume, he was a critical member of England’s World Cup squad that made the semifinals.

Case in point, his performance against Liverpool, which was fabulous. First, the obvious: Stones completed 94/99 passes, was a perfect 9-of-9 clearing the ball, won both his aerial duels, was not dispossessed once, and helped keep Roberto Firmino to a generally minimal threat, with the Brazilian’s goal only coming while he was marked by Vincent Kompany.

To dig a little deeper, here’s just one more fine-tuned reason why Pep loves Stones. This astute find from Statsbomb writer Nico Morales shows how his vision has not just improved, but taken a leap of faith.

Nico is exactly right. Stones connected with left-back Aymeric Laporte seven times in the game, all switches of play from Stones at RCB to Laporte on the left flank. That pass is vital to Manchester City as they look to break Liverpool’s press. That pass is meant to be taken away by the high positioning of the striker (in this case, as Morales points out, Salah), but Stones managed to find it anyways. In addition, Stones found Leroy Sane on the left flank three times, an even more difficult alleyway to navigate.

In addition, Stones no longer makes the positional mistakes we became so numb to his freshman year at the Etihad. Last year during their dominant title run, Manchester City conceded a league-low 27 goals through the 38 matches, and while Stones struggled that campaign with injuries, he put in nine full-90 minute performances in Premier League play, six of which finished in clean sheets.

Stones’ most notable play of the Liverpool match was a perfect encapsulation of his career path at Manchester City. After being admittedly beaten by Sadio Mane, he put enough pressure on the Liverpool winger to (together with a charging Ederson) force him into hitting the post. Stones then attempted to clear the ball by clattering it straight into Ederson’s body, looping the ball towards his own net. He then rushed back to clear the ball off the line, literally millimeters (11 of them, to be exact) from the game’s first goal.

He’s not the sexiest player on the field. In the win over Liverpool, Bernardo Silva got plenty of (deserved) plaudits for running his absolute socks off (he ran the furthest distance of any player in any Premier League match this season). Sergio Aguero scored a ridiculous(ly important) goal. Leroy Sane’s winner came from a moment of far-post ingenuity. Even Vincent Kompany was lauded for his hard work, his clearing ability, and his physical tenacity that nearly netted him a sending off. Stones, on the other hand, plods along doing the little things that help the Man City Machine continue to churn. It’s not even dirty work – which often earns recognition in its own right (see: Silva, Bernardo) – it’s just plain old work.

While many consider Raheem Sterling‘s development as Pep Guardiola’s most impressive individual coaching job at Manchester City – and there’s a good argument to be made there – it is of this writer’s belief that Guardiola’s crowning achievement thus far at City is the building of The Stones Wall. From 21-year-old project (a “poor buy” as one nameless dope put it) to 24-year-old superstar, John Stones has truly developed into one of the world’s best central defenders, and there’s still room to grow.

And for that, I owe him an apology.

Title hopes alive! Man City upends Liverpool

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  • Liverpool millimeters from 1-0 lead (video)
  • Aguero puts Man City ahead
  • Firmino ties it, 64′
  • Sane registers winner 8 mins later

What a game, and it may have just kept the Premier League title race open for business.

Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane scored for reigning champions Manchester City, who ended Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season with a 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

The win brings City back into second place, four points back of Liverpool.

Roberto Firmino scored the Reds’ lone goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The tackles and fouls came hard and fast, with Man City’s Fernandinho plowing into Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson putting a foot into ex-Liverpool man Raheem Sterling.

Liverpool thought it had gone ahead after an incredible team play found Mohamed Salah putting Mane on goal, but the Senegalese player’s shot hit the post and City’s harried clearance was saved from own goal status by John Stones at the line.

How close was it? Both teams seemed to stall in progression as referee Anthony Taylor looked at his watch.

Dejan Lovren then went in the books with a professional foul to get in the way of a Sergio Aguero break. David Silva oversaw the free kick, but his lofted ball to Aguero found the Argentine offside.

Sterling cued up David Silva for a shot inside the Liverpool box, but the Spaniard needed an extra touch and saw his effort blocked by the Reds defense.

It was Aguero who would dent the scoreboard, racing to the corner flag for a celebratory kick moments after he thought he’d won a penalty off Virgil Van Dijk.

Bernardo Silva played Aguero’s near post run perfectly, and the Argentine had a yard from Lovren to blast past a slow-to-react-at-close-range Alisson Becker. 1-0, City.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed for a second goal at the start of the second half, but Liverpool’s defenders proved stout.

Sterling saw a penalty appeal denied in the 52nd minute, as Anthony Taylor waved away the claim after Andrew Robertson blocked the Man City man from getting to his cutback.

Trent Alexander-Arnold was more adventurous as the game wore on, and blasted a shot into the outside of the goal.

A City error set Roberto Firmino up for an equalizer bid, but Vincent Kompany cleared the 63rd minute danger.

Firmino got the leveler within a minute, Alexander-Arnold crossing to fellow full back Robertson. The Scottish left back nodded across goal, and Firmino met the chance with his head for an easy-enough finish.

City went back ahead with a sensational finish by Sane, who took a pass from Sterling and carved out some room inside the 18 to drive a low pass off the far post and home. The angle was his only avenue into the goal.

Alisson bailed out his backs when Aguero was played 1v1 with him in the 83rd minute. And Ederson came close to meeting the quality of that stop with a flick of Salah’s bid to level the score in the 84th.

Bernardo Silva took the ball off Lovren and forced Alisson into another save, and Sterling rocketed his chance for a first goal against his former mates wide of the goal.

WATCH: Man City’s John Stones saves John Stones from conceding own goal

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You know the old cliche of a team having it “all to do” when it’s down a couple of goals or more at halftime?

We’ve got a new turn of the phrase, because John Stones had it all to do in the 18th minute at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

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A beautiful bit of team play from Liverpool saw denied a goal by the thinnest of margins and the Goal Decision System.

Mohamed Salah played Sadio Mane on goal, and Stones was second-best and had to watch the Senegalese striker beat Ederson but not the goal post.

Stones then found the bounding ball but lashed his clearance off the hands of a sliding Ederson.

He’d have more work to do, racing back to the goal line and clearing the ball just off the line in a move which would’ve caused palpitations in the steadiest of tickers.

The small margin could’ve seen City down 1-0, but instead half time saw the opposite score line.

Bernardo Silva played Aguero’s near post run perfectly, and the Argentine had a yard from Lovren to blast past a slow-to-react-at-close-range Alisson Becker. 1-0, City.