Matthijs de Ligt

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Transfer news: Coutinho to Chelsea, De Ligt to Man United

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The latest transfer news continues across the Premier League and here’s a look at some of the juiciest rumors.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

First up, Philippe Coutinho has been linked with a move back to England with Chelsea his latest potential destination as they are said to be ‘in negotiations’ with Barcelona about signing him on a permanent deal.

The Brazilian playmaker is still a Barcelona player but he’s spent the 2019-20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

According to The Sun newspaper the 27-year-old midfielder will leave Bayern at the end of this season with the Bavarian giants unwilling to trigger his $130 million release clause.

Arsenal, Tottenham and Man United are all said to be in the running to sign Coutinho but it is Chelsea who have taken the first step to sign the Brazilian who was sensational at Liverpool before his move to Barcelona 18 months ago. Coutinho never settled properly at the Nou Camp as he was shipped out on loan to Bayern and it is highly unlikely Barca will get even half of the $175 million they paid to Liverpool for him in January 2018.

Per the report, Coutinho would be available for between $65-80 million and that could be worth a punt for several Premier League clubs given his past form for Liverpool in England’s top-flight. His ability to drop his shoulder, dictate the tempo of a game and deliver stunning goals and deliveries from long-range is his trademark.

With Willian and Pedro both likely to leave Chelsea this summer, Frank Lampard will need some attacking reinforcements but he already has Hakim Ziyech arriving from Ajax, plus Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi battling for spots in the attacking midfield positions. In terms of the other clubs interested in Coutinho, it would seem like Tottenham would be the best fit as they recently lost playmaker Christian Eriksen and both Man United and Arsenal seem set with their current attacking talents.

Coutinho’s quality means he would be a good buy for any Premier League club with his former manager at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, linked with a shock move to bring him to Leicester City. Coutinho may not fit in at Barcelona but he is still loved by many in the Premier League, even after his acrimonious departure from Liverpool.


Another player who sealed a big move but has failed to settle is Matthijs de Ligt.

The Daily Express say that Man United have made De Ligt one of their top targets for this summer as the 20-year-old Dutch center back has failed to impress after his mega transfer from Ajax to Juventus last summer.

De Ligt looked likely to head to Man United for most of last summer but instead joined Juve for $100 million but under Maurizio Sarri he’s struggled to be a regular and both parties are reportedly ready to move on when the next transfer window arrives.

A towering presence at the heart of Ajax’s defense in their run to the Champions League semifinals in 2018-19, plus a rising star on the international stage with the Netherlands, De Ligt’s game would be suited well to the Premier League.

Do Man United need another center back? Right now Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof have formed a pretty solid partnership in central defense, flanked by Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, with Eric Bailly and Phil Jones back up center back options.

That said, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has used a 3-4-3 system on many occasions this season, especially against the Premier League big boys away from home, and that could mean there’s space for De Ligt, Maguire and Lindelof in the same lineup.

There’s no doubt Juve will be looking to recoup the vast majority of the $100 million they paid for De Ligt last summer but that’s unlikely. One potential deal suggested, per the report, is that Paul Pogba could head back to Juventus with De Ligt part of the deal.

Man United’s attack is set with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings and the duo of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford delivering. Shoring up midfield and defense should remain Solskjaer’s top priority and if De Ligt can regain the amazing form from his Ajax days, he would have a huge impact.

Chiellini on track for imminent Juventus return

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35-year-old Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has been out since tearing his ACL in late August just one game into the Serie A campaign.

Just over five months later, the Juventus captain could be set for a return to the field in the coming weeks, with Juve confirming that Chiellini has returned to partial training and reports claiming he has his eye on a few significant matches later this month for his possible comeback.

Ahead of Juventus’s weekend match against Chievo Verona, manager Maurizio Sarri said during his Friday press conference, “We are on schedule after his surgery, at the moment he is training with the group.”

That follows Wednesday’s edition of Gazzetta dello Sport that stated Chiellini is hoping to be back for the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 matchup against Lyon on February 26. That would mean theoretically he would be available for the critical game against Inter that weekend on March 1 and the second leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal against AC Milan the following Wednesday, March 4.

In Chiellini’s absence, young Matthijs de Ligt has partnered in defense with stand-in captain Leonardo Bonucci to moderate success, with Merih Demiral occasionally standing in as well. However, should Chiellini return to full fitness, it’s likely he would regain his place in the starting lineup. De Ligt has occasionally had to answer for costly mistakes, saying back in late January, “If I had been in their [fans’] shoes, I would also be angry at such mistakes. But as a player these are problems that shouldn’t interest me. I just have to think about working to improve myself, understand if I’m making progress or not.”

With that in mind, and given that de Ligt is still just 20 years old and has plenty of time to continue developing at Juventus, Chiellini is likely to see the field again after returning. However, on the flip side, the Italian is at an advanced age that may require a slower reintegration to full appearances, making just the simple fact of his imminent return impressive to begin with, and fans might need to be patient as he regains the ability to consistently pump out 90-minute performances at the highest level.

Messi wins 6th Ballon d’Or

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Lionel Messi is back on top.

For the sixth time, the hosts at France Football’s end-of-year awards ceremonies read out Messi’s name as the winner of the Ballon d’Or. The 2019 award is Messi’s first since 2015. Since the the award was won by Cristiano Ronaldo twice and Luka Modric last year after guiding Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final.

So far this season, Messi has scored 14 goals to go with eight assists for Barcelona in all competitions. Last season however, Messi returned to his dominance, leading La Liga with 36 goals and scoring a total of 48 between the league and the UEFA Champions League. He also had 16 assists between both leagues.

Also honored on Monday evening was the winners of the Best Young Player and the Best Goalkeeper, a new award.

The goalkeeping award, named after the Soviet great Lev Yashin, went to Liverpool’s Alisson Becker. The Brazilian goalkeeper backstopped Liverpool in his first season in England to second place in the Premier League and the 2019 UEFA Champions League title. He’s recorded 21 clean sheets in 45 Premier League appearances so far.

Matthijs de Ligt, the former Ajax star who led his team to back to back Champions League semifinals, was named the Best Young Player by France Football. Now with Juventus, de Ligt is part of a superstar generation of young Dutch players who are looking to take their nation far at the 2020 Euros and beyond. De Ligt, at just 20-years old, still has many of his best years ahead of him.

The top ten in the final 2019 Ballon d’Or is as follows:

10. Riyad Mahrez, Man City

9. Bernardo Silva, Man City

8. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

7. Alisson Becker, Liverpool

6. Kylian Mbappe, PSG

5. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

4. Sadie Mane, Liverpool

3. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

2. Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Going to EURO: Netherlands qualify to first EURO since 2012

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It was far from a convincing performance, but with a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park on Saturday, the Netherlands clinched a major tournament berth for the first time since the 2014 World Cup and a first EURO since 2012.

Needing a sole point to qualify for next summer’s big-stage European competition, Ronald Koeman and company clinched wit luck and tight, defensive work on their side. Throughout the final 45 minutes, the Northern Ireland’s possession of the ball was a mere 29 percent, while recording a lone shot off target.

A big reason for the defensive solidity was contingent on the Netherland’s center back tandem composed of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and Juventus’ Matthijs de Ligt. The two defenders combined for three clearances, one blocked shot, one tackle and eight ariels won.

With the attack lacking in the finishing department despite accumulating 14 shots (three on target), the 28-year-old captain recognizes it was a tough, yet meaningful game for the team and for all of Netherlands, who failed to qualify for the 2016 EURO and 2018 World Cup.

“It was a tough game,” van Dijk said. “Unlucky for him (Davis), good for us! The lads are very happy in the dressing room. We’re back at a major tournament. It means a lot for us as players. Hopefully it means so much to the Dutch people.”

“We have to make sure we prepare very well for a big tournament,” he added. “We missed the last two. We want to perform well.”

With one game left against Estonia midweek, the Netherlands trails Group C leaders, Germany, by two points. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, qualified for the playoff round, with their opponent still to be determined.

Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

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In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.