Samuel Umtiti

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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.

EURO qualifying: France tops Iceland; England win marred by racism

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England and France made sure their EURO 2020 qualifying stayed on script, completing 6-point starts to the campaign on Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT-Chile preview ]

Montenegro 1-5 England

Sloppy English defending allowed Legia Warsaw man Marko Vesovic to put Montenegro ahead at Podgorica City Stadium, but the Three Lions sound found their footing.

Michael Keane scored his first England goal before Ross Barkley redirected a Callum Hudson-Odoi strike eight minutes later to give Gareth Southgate‘s men a 2-1 lead at the break.

Barkley completed his brace when Montenegro keeper Stefan Savic pushed a clearance of a Raheem Sterling cross back toward the Chelsea man. Harry Kane and Sterling also scored for the Three Lions.

Unfortunately, Danny Rose and several of his black England teammates were targeted by racists.

France 2-0 Iceland

Samuel Umtiti was the surprise goal scorer, heading home a Kylian Mbappe cross as hosts France were only able to break down Iceland on one occasion until the 68th minute.

That’s when Olivier Giroud moved into third place all-time on the French goal scoring list, behind only Michel Platini and Thierry Henry. The Chelsea man was in position to score when goalkeeper Hannes Thor Halldórsson made a mess of Benjamin Pavard’s cross.

Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann would also score in the win.

Giroud has six fewer goals than Platini, and is 16 behind Henry’s 51.

Elsewhere
Portugal 1-1 Serbia — Ronaldo hurt
Kosovo 1-1 Bulgaria
Luxembourg 1-2 Ukraine
Andorra 0-3 Albania
Turkey 4-0 Moldova

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Higuain nearing Chelsea move, City looking for Fernandinho cover

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Gonzalo Higuain has been linked with a move to Chelsea almost all winter, and all signs point to a move away from the San Siro any day now. The 31-year-old striker was left out of the AC Milan squad to take on Genoa on Monday, the most recent sign of his imminent departure.

In his pre-match press conference, Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso spoke about the likely move, saying angrily, “I spoke in my office with Higuain and it is right to leave him out. We are still waiting on the move and there’s nothing completed but I want to see people who are mentally ready and available and if I don’t get that, I’ll go into battle with those who are more prepared.”

Chelsea has had trouble finding a productive striker of late, with Alvaro Morata benched for poor performance. With Olivier Giroud injured and inconsistent, Maurizio Sarri has utilized Eden Hazard as a false nine, and the result has been just five goals over the last six matches across all competitions.


Manchester City is reportedly looking to find a player to back up defensive midfielder Fernandinho, and the name mentioned is Schalke’s Sebastian Rudy.

The 28-year-old German arrived at Schalke from Bayern Munich this past summer, but has logged just 644 league minutes. While Rudy likely wouldn’t find the starting lineup more often at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola is known for his effective player rotation at Man City, and the club could tempt him with a title race.

Fernandinho has been one of the world’s best defensive midfielders over the past few years, but with the Brazilian on the sideline for two matches earlier this season, Manchester City dropped both games and slipped behind Liverpool in the title race. Center-back John Stones was utilized in the defensive midfield role in Fernandinho’s absence, but Crystal Palace and Leicester City scored a combined five goals.

According to multiple reports in England, a short-term loan would be effective in giving Fernandinho cover for the rest of the season as City looks to catch up with Liverpool and hold of Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arenal.


Arsenal fans were put on alert with Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti in attendance at the Emirates for Arsenal’s win over Chelsea. The French defender is currently injured, and with Barcelona playing on Sunday, Umtiti was able to make his way to England and watch his countrymates Laurent Koscielny and Alexandre Lacazette.

It would be highly unlikely for Umtiti to move this winter, as he is vitally important to the Barcelona squad and is out injured for another few weeks due to a long-term knee problem. It’s plausible Arsenal could make a play over the summer, but given how Barcelona’s defense has sagged in his absence, it’s unlikely the La Liga leaders would be willing to let him go. Umtiti’s contract with Barcelona runs through the summer of 2023, so he is under clear club control for the time being.


Rumblings in England have suggested that Tottenham defender and American international Cameron Carter-Vickers could leave Spurs this winter after the club has decided the 21-year-old will not break into the first team. According to a report by TeamTalk.com, Wigan Athletic could be in play for a permanent move for Carter-Vickers, who is currently on loan at Swansea City, but has struggled for playing time with the Championship club.

The American was also linked with Ipswich Town earlier this January, although that was mentioned as another loan. Either way, it sounds increasingly likely that Spurs could recall Carter-Vickers and look for a new club to deploy him at this winter.

Vermaelen out a month, compounding Barcelona defensive woes

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Barcelona’s back line has been forced to dig deep of late, and they’ll be digging even deeper with the news that center-back Thomas Vermaelen will miss a month with a calf injury.

The La Liga leaders announced that Vermaelen would miss approximately four weeks with a torn calf muscle, meaning he would be healthy to return sometime around mid-January. Barcelona has league games against Eibar on the 13th and Leganes on the 20th, with the second leg of a Copa del Rey Round of 16 matchup against Levante sandwiched in between.

Vermaelen hasn’t exactly been a heavily used player this season, nor throughout his Barcelona career, but his presence of late had become vital after Samuel Umtiti went down in late September with a long-term knee injury. Vermaelen himself had just returned from a hamstring injury, playing his first minutes since early October on Sunday. However, he was forced off after 52 minutes in the 5-0 win over Eibar, sidelined yet again.

The 33-year-old has been plagued by injuries his entire career, known first at Arsenal and again at Barcelona for his struggles to stay on the field. Vermaelen missed time last year with knee, leg, and hip injuries that held him to just over 1,500 total minutes across all competitions.

In addition, full-backs Sergi Roberto and Nelson Semedo are struggling with injuries. Manager Ernesto Valverde had decided to utilize a back-three against Eibar to cover for the lack of full-backs, with Clement Lenglet in as the third, but after Vermaelen went down,, central midfielder Arthur was brought on, leaving Lenglet to partner with Gerard Pique at the back and switching to a tradtitional back-four. While Jordi Alba was easily able to switch back to his traditional left-back spot, the absence of both Roberto and Semedo leaves no true right-back available for the more traditional formation.

With the absences, it would be surprising if Barcelona did not bring in cover during the January transfer window to ease the injury woes.

Barcelona ships four goals in loss to Real Betis

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The top of the La Liga table is nowhere near straightforward this season.

Barcelona failed to build a gap at the summit as they fall 4-3 at home against Real Betis on Sunday. Lionel Messi scored twice in his return from a broken arm, but was unable to overcome a multitude of defensive mistakes.

Junior Firpo, Joaquin, Giovani Lo Celso, and Sergio Canales all found the scoresheet for the visitors at the Camp Nou as they routed the Barcelona back line.

The first came from 22-year-old Firpo in the 20th minute who finished with his right foot one-on-one against Sergi Roberto after a brilliant long-distance feed from William Carvalho. Barcelona would fall 2-0 behind before halftime as Clément Lenglet whiffed attempting to clear a cross that skittered across the face of goal, and with the defenders all sucked towards net by the fast paced counter-attack, Cristian Tello cut the ball back into the middle where Joaquin was waiting to finish with a nifty little flick. Messi brought Barcelona a goal back from the penalty spot past the hour mark, but Giovani Lo Celso found space in the box just three minutes later and powered it home past Marc-Andre ter Stegen who got a touch.

Arturo Vidal again drew Barcelona within one before Betis would find the ultimate winning goal in the 83rd minute in a vicious flurry. Betis forced ter Stegen to come off his line and make a smothering save near the left post, which he did before booting the chance clear. It came right back at the Barcelona defense, however, as a streaking Junior Firpo cannoned the ball across the face of goal where Sergio Canales split Lenglet and Roberto with a sliding finish.

Barcelona’s defense has suffered greatly in the absence of Samuel Umtiti, who was unable to return from his knee injury in time to be fit for the match against Real Betis, having missed nearly six weeks. Lenglet has filled in during Umtiti’s absence, and Barcelona has conceded nine goals over the last four matches with the understudy in the lineup. Thomas Vermaelen has also been absent with a hamstring injury suffered after he played 90 minutes against Valencia in early October.

With the loss, Barcelona holds just a one-point lead over Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Alaves at the top of the La Liga table, with Espanyol three points back and Real Madrid still seven points behind.