Marcus Rashford has been ordered to take extra finishing lessons at Manchester United — ESPN’s Insider Notebook has the latest. PLUS: The extent of Barcelona’s cash crisis.
Jump to: Madrid must sell to fund Mbappe, Haaland moves | Barca cash crisis laid bare | Diallo set for Man United debut | Dzeko’s fury, Roma’s incredible admin blunders | Di Maria’s PSG talks | Arsenal coach angers Southampton | Alli, Lingard need a fresh start
Rashford’s finishing concern at Man United
Marcus Rashford has been given additional finishing lessons by Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, sources told ESPN, amid concern among club coaches he is becoming too predictable.
The 23-year-old has scored seven goals in 20 Premier League games this season and drew a blank in United’s shock 2-1 defeat at home to bottom side Sheffield United on Wednesday.
There is a view within United’s coaching team that Rashford has become over-reliant on his favoured technique of attempting to beat goalkeepers with power. Sources told ESPN Solskjaer believes Rashford will score more if he develops a broader repertoire when he has chances to score. The United manager has urged Rashford to work on other elements, such as controlled finishing by passing the ball into the corners of the goal, beyond the reach of the goalkeeper.
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Rashford has had 46 shots on goal, according to official Premier League data for this season, with 22 hitting the target. He has hit the woodwork once and missed seven so-called big chances this season. His shooting accuracy of 48% compares favourably with the Premier League’s top scorers, Son Heung-Min (56%), Mohamed Salah (46%) and Harry Kane (38%), but United believe he can do better and improve his accuracy by developing his technique and making it more difficult for goalkeepers to decide how he will shoot at goal.
While Rashford’s finishing let him down in Wednesday’s loss to Sheffield United, his additional work on the training ground paid off last week when he calmly slotted past Allison in United’s 3-2 win over rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round.
United manager Solskjaer scored 126 goals in 366 appearances during his playing career at Old Trafford and was regarded by Sir Alex Ferguson as one of the most natural finishers during his 27-year reign in charge. –– Mark Ogden
Madrid must sell to land Mbappe, Haaland
Real Madrid need to sell a collection of fringe players this summer if they want to compete with their rivals to sign Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, sources told ESPN.
The pair have been linked with Real in the transfer rumour gossip columns for over a year but sources said the club’s priority is to bring in €60-70m in player sales this summer with Isco, Marcelo, Alvaro Odriozola and Luka Jovic among those that could leave. Europe’s elite football clubs are expected to miss out on over €2bn ($2.43bn) in revenue by the end of the 2020-21 season due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and Madrid’s aim is to balance their books through player sales before focusing on arrivals.
Last summer, the club did not make a signing for the first time since 1980 and instead recouped €100m in player departures, including Sergio Reguilon, Achraf Hakimi and Oscar Rodriguez. They also reduced their wage bill by €40m after James Rodriguez’s free transfer to Everton and Gareth Bale’s season-long loan to Tottenham.
Mbappe and Haaland both remain on Madrid’s radar but aside from looking to fund a move for one or both of them, the club are also focusing on contract renewals for key players.
Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Lucas Vazquez’s renewals are all a pressing concern, and sources said talks over a new deal for Ramos will resume soon. Sources added that Modric’s one-year extension is expected without too many problems but that Vazquez has turned down one offer of a new deal, which included the same terms he is on at present. — Rodrigo Faez
The Gab & Juls podcast reflects on Real Madrid’s bounce-back performance vs. Alaves.
Barcelona cash crisis concern for incoming president
Barcelona are desperately trying to renegotiate their debt amid fears at the club they could default on payments for Philippe Coutinho and Frenkie de Jong, among others, sources told ESPN.
Barca owe installments for players totaling €126.2 million before June 30, including €30m for Coutinho and €16m for De Jong. They must be made to a third-party financial institution as Liverpool and Ajax have sold the debt. It is standard procedure for transfer fees to be paid across several years but the club’s lack of liquidity means they will struggle to make the payments if the incoming president doesn’t find a solution.
Beyond June 30, Barca still owe another €196.7m for players (€52m for Miralem Pjanic, €48m more for De Jong and another €40m for Coutinho) while their gross debt, which includes money owed to banks, has risen to nearly €1.2 billion. Barca say their net debt stands at €488m.
The club’s cash flow problem extends to paying players. A source close to the first team squad confirmed they didn’t receive their full salaries last month and they would be “surprised” if the missing amount was made up soon.
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“The financial pressure to beat Paris Saint-Germain and progress in the Champions League will be huge,” the source said.
The interim board, presided over by acting president Carles Tusquets, are looking for solutions with the banks but the problem is they don’t have the authority to make big decisions.
Barca have been without a president since the end of October and will remain without one until March 7, when either Joan Laporta, Victor Font or Toni Freixa will be elected. Whoever is elected will then have just over three months to try and get the debt re-organised before the club’s accounts are closed on June 30.
Sources told ESPN the candidates for the presidency haven’t ruled out having to sell some of the club’s assets to help offset the debt, although they’re hopeful they won’t have to accept offers for their best players. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens
Ale Moreno delves into Frenkie de Jong and Lionel Messi’s roles during Barca’s win over Rayo Vallecano.
Diallo set for Man United debut
Manchester United are ready to hand a debut to new signing Amad Diallo on Saturday when the Under-23s play Liverpool, sources told ESPN.
The 18-year-old winger, signed for €21 million plus another €20m in add-ons from Serie A side Atalanta, has been training with the first team since arriving in January.
Solskjaer has been impressed with Diallo, who only made five senior appearances for Atalanta, since joining the squad and is planning to give the teenager his first-team debut before the end of the season.
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Diallo is the only addition during the January transfer window after remaining in Italy for the first half of the season and the United manager believes he could be the answer to his side’s problem position on the right wing.
The player’s first taste in English football could be a feisty affair, with bitter rivals United and Liverpool both having a player sent off in the corresponding fixture in the Premier League 2 Division One match last September, that Liverpool won 5-3. — Rob Dawson
Fonseca, Dzeko could leave Roma over admin blunders
Two scarcely believable administration mistakes at Roma are likely to signal the end of either manager Paulo Fonseca or striker Edin Dzeko’s time at the club, sources told ESPN.
Roma have broken competition rules twice this season and been handed a 3-0 defeat after a match was defaulted. The latest mistake in the Coppa Italia round of 16 against Spezia — when the coach made six substitutions instead of the allocated five — led to Dzeko confronting Fonseca, along with several key players.
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Though Roma had lost the match 4-2 in extra time anyway, the latest clerical blunder led to major tensions at the club. Sources told ESPN Fonseca blamed the gaffe on team manager Gianluca Gombar, who was sacked after the match. Gombar received messages of support from Roma players following his exit and Dzeko led a revolt, with players refusing to take part in training last week. Roma exacted some revenge over Spezia by beating them 4-3 in Serie A but Dzeko was dropped from the matchday squad after refusing to train in the lead-up to the game. Sources told ESPN the Bosnia international is now training again, but away from the first team.
The Coppa Italia error followed another clerical oversight on the opening day of the season. Roma’s match at Verona was declared a 3-0 defeat for Fonseca’s men when midfielder Amadou Diawara, who was 23 at the time, played 89 minutes as a registered under-22 player. Teams are permitted to register up to 25 players over the age of 22 at the start of the campaign, so Roma were accused of trying to free up space in their senior squad selection, with no limits on the number of U22 players. Roma director Pantaleo Longo, who was at fault, resigned from his position in the aftermath only to join Verona, the team he made the mistake against, in November.
The relationship between Dzeko and Fonseca first became strained following Roma’s dismal exit to Sevilla in the Europa League round of 16 last season, when they produced a poor display to lose 2-0 and exit the competition, with Dzeko confronting Fonseca after the match, sources said. The former Manchester City striker has been linked by reports in the Italian press with a return to England, as well as Inter Milan, and is unlikely to face Verona on Saturday, with coach Fonseca’s future on the line as well. — Andrew Cesare Richardson
Di Maria in PSG contract talks amid reports of Tottenham interest
Paris Saint-Germain have started contracted renewal negotiations with Angel Di Maria, sources told ESPN, with the forward rejecting the club’s first offer.
Reports in Italy have claimed Tottenham are watching developments between PSG and Di Maria but sources said the Ligue 1 giants are hopeful over finding an agreement to extend the player’s stay at the club.
Di Maria, who spent an unhappy season at Manchester United in 2014-15, is settled in Paris with his family. He arrived in a €63m deal and has been a success, with 86 goals and 102 assists in 243 appearances.
The 32-year-old is ready to lower his salary, which is €12m gross a year, but wants a two-year deal, sources said. New PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino is a fan of Di Maria and has used him in a new role since taking over, with the forward playing in a more central position than he did under former coach Thomas Tuchel.
PSG sporting director Leonardo is also eager to keep Di Maria at the club, with both parties hopeful an agreement can be reached soon. — Julien Laurens
Jan Aage Fjortoft has the inside scoop on Martin Odegaard’s loan move to Arsenal.
Saints and sinners in Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Southampton
Hearing interactions between players and staff is one of the few benefits from an absence of fans inside stadiums but Southampton’s substitutes in this week’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal proved it isn’t always welcome.
To conform with COVID-19 social distancing measures, substitutes and some backroom staff members sit in the empty stands behind the dugouts at matches but many still want to make their voices heard. During Arsenal’s win at St Mary’s on Wednesday, coach Carlos Cuesta could be heard furiously contesting decisions and barking instructions, telling players to “organise” when they lost the ball or “squeeze” to close down space.
– Olley: Win at Southampton shows where Arsenal priorities lie
The incessant noise irritated several Southampton substitutes and staff, including goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who was heard at one point telling Cuesta to “shut the f— up.”
One Saints member replied: “We’re just trying to watch the game in peace and f—— quiet.” — James Olley
ESPN FC’s Mark Ogden provides an update over Jesse Lingard’s future at Manchester United.
Lingard, Alli’s Euro 2020 hopes in balance
England manager Gareth Southgate has left the door open for Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard to make a late run into his Euro 2020 squad, sources told ESPN, if two of his best performers at the 2018 World Cup can get their season back on track.
Lingard is set to move to West Ham on loan until the end of the season in a desperate bid to play after featuring in three matches at United this season while Alli continues to be linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain after falling out of favour under Jose Mourinho at Tottenham.
The duo played key roles during England’s run to the semifinals in Russia three years ago but have been absent from Southgate’s team since playing in the Nations League third/fourth place play-offs against Switzerland in Portugal in June 2019.
Paris Saint-Germain are keen to sign attacking midfielder Alli and reunite him with former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, while Lingard will hope ex-Manchester United boss David Moyes can inspire a turnaround in form.
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Despite both players spending so long outside the England squad, sources said they remain in Southgate’s thoughts and that a move for both will boost their chances of returning to the international stage.
England begin their World Cup qualifying campaign with games against San Marino, Albania and Poland in March and sources said that, if Alli and Lingard can return to club action within the next two months, they will be considered by Southgate due to the manager’s knowledge of the two players and their previous contribution to the squad. — Mark Ogden