Notebook: Prem clubs monitoring Dembele fallout

Ousmane Dembele is considering his options to leave Barcelona after falling out with the club’s board, writes Lyall Thomas.

The France attacker is so far not signing the offer of a new contract with his current deal set to expire in the summer.

He can talk to clubs outside La Liga this month and there are a number of Premier League clubs monitoring his situation.

Dembele and his agent Moussa Sissoko are said to have been disappointed by Barca’s request for him to take a pay cut in his new terms.

They were also unhappy that this request coincided with the signing of Ferran Torres from Manchester City – a player they believe plays in the same position.

Ousmane Dembele
Image:
Ousmane Dembele has fallen out with Barcelona over his proposed new contract

Barca are said to have reassured them that Torres will play more as a No.9. Nevertheless, Dembele and his representatives want a similar deal to Torres.

Reports in Spain also claim Barca are unable to register Torres until Dembele accepts the terms on offer – or leaves.

Barca officials have put the ball firmly in Dembele’s court in recent public comments, urging him to sign the deal.

Sky Sports News has been told that, if he does not, Barca will push for his sale to another club this month.

And if he does not go, they are even prepared to keep him away from the first team until his deal runs out.

The stand-off did not affect his performance on Wednesday night, however. Dembele scored against Linares in the 2-1 Copa del Rey victory.

Blackburn in talks for Hedges, Souttar and Zeefuik

Blackburn are in talks to sign Aberdeen winger Ryan Hedges, write Lyall Thomas, Anthony Joseph and Alan Myers.

His Aberdeen contract expires this summer so he is free to speak to clubs outside Scotland. Aberdeen have tried to keep him but he wants to go back to the Championship.

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 01: Aberdeen's Ryan hedges celebrates making it 1-0 during a Cinch Premiership match between Aberdeen and Livingston at Pittodrie Stadium, on December 01, 2021, in Aberdeen, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Image:
Aberdeen’s Ryan hedges is a target for Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn had a bid turned down for Hedges at the end of the summer window.

Rovers are also interested in John Souttar at Hearts but face competition from a number of other clubs including Rangers.

Sky Germany are also reporting that Blackburn are close to signing Hertha Berlin’s Deyovaisio Zeefuik on loan. Manager Tony Mowbray has targeted a right back with Ryan Nyambe’s future uncertain.

Cardiff open talks for Dijon’s Panzo

Cardiff have opened talks with Dijon to sign England U21 centre-back Jonathan Panzo, reports Lyall Thomas.

QPR and Stoke are also interested in bringing the former Chelsea academy player back to England. Panzo joined Dijon from Monaco in 2020 and also spent time on loan at Club Brugge.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

The Transfer Show’s Dharmesh Sheth and Kaveh Solhekol round up the latest transfer news from all 20 Premier League clubs.

New York Red Bulls target Celtic’s Soro

New York Red Bulls are one of a number of MLS clubs targeting Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro, according to Anthony Joseph.

The Ivory Coast international has moved down the pecking order under Ange Postecoglou and the Hoops are willing to listen to any loan or permanent offers for the player.

Soro is also attracting interest in Israel but it is believed he would prefer a move to the USA.

It’s understood New York Red Bulls have not made any official approach at this stage and are in no rush. However, they are aiming to sign their transfer targets before the start of the new MLS season next month.

Last season, Red Bulls signed Patryk Klimala and Cameron Harper from Celtic. And former Hoops winger Lewis Morgan is also at the club.

Sky Sports News revealed yesterday that Celtic were looking to offload fringe players to trim the squad, as a matter of priority.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

Haaland getting even better – Barcelona next?

Speculation around Erling Haaland’s future is intensifying with Barcelona now said to be front-runners for his signature but how has the Borussia Dortmund striker been performing this season? And how could Barcelona afford him?

Haaland has been linked with a host of top European clubs in recent years, including Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, but reports in Spain say his agent, Mino Raiola, has informed Barcelona president Joan Laporta of the 21-year-old’s desire to make the Catalan giants his next club.

Dortmund maintain he is going nowhere in January but even he does stay beyond the end of the month, Raiola has already said publicly there is a “big chance” he will move in the summer, when a £64m release clause in his contract reportedly comes into effect.

With 76 goals in 74 appearances for Dortmund since his move from Red Bull Salzburg in December 2019, it’s little wonder Haaland is in demand. Here, we look at how he’s fared this season – and examine how cash-strapped Barcelona could sign him.

Goals flowing despite interruptions

Dortmund's Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Greuther Furth
Image:
Haaland celebrates a recent goal against Greuther Furth

Haaland has had to contend with injuries this season. A muscular problem caused him to miss three games at the end of September and he was ruled out for a longer period between October and November due to a hip flexor issue.

That hip injury was expected to keep him sidelined for December, too, but instead he returned to action ahead of schedule.

Typically, he marked his first appearance in two months with a goal only seven minutes after his introduction from the bench, helping Borussia Dortmund beat Wolfsburg 3-1 on November 27.

That strike put him into double figures in the Bundesliga this season and there have been five more in five games since, taking his overall goal tally to 19 in just 15 appearances for Dortmund so far.

Haaland is Dortmund’s top scorer as a result, and despite missing a large chunk of the campaign through injury, only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowksi (19) and Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick (16) have scored more goals in the Bundesliga this season.

The Norway striker may well overtake that pair if he remains injury-free and continues scoring with the same frequency. Indeed, the 21-year-old is averaging a goal every 69 minutes in the Bundesliga, meaning his strike rate is the best it has been since his arrival at Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg two seasons ago.

Disappointingly for Dortmund, they lag behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich despite Haaland’s efforts. Marco Rose’s side sit nine points behind their rivals in second place. They would be nine points worse off, though, without Haaland’s goals.

They missed him badly during the Champions League group stage. Haaland was only able to start their first two games, meaning he was unavailable for crucial meetings with Ajax and Sporting Lisbon as Dortmund slumped to a third-placed finish in Group C, causing them to drop into the Europa League.

Haaland must now wait for another crack at the Champions League – be that at Dortmund or somewhere else.

Stats trending upwards

Haaland has scored 13 goals in only 10 Bundesliga appearances this season
Image:
Haaland has scored 13 goals in only 10 Bundesliga appearances this season

The records continue to tumble for Haaland, who, at 21 years and six days old, became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 50 goals in the competition in November. He also reached the landmark in the fewest appearances – only 50.

What’s most impressive, though, is that Haaland, a frightening talent ever since he burst onto the scene at Red Bull Salzburg as a teenager, just keeps getting better.

“He’s much improved compared to last season,” said Dortmund boss Rose earlier this month. “He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”

The improved movement and decision-making can be seen in his increased goal output but it’s the positioning Rose mentioned that best explains how he has reached another level this season.

Put simply, Haaland is spending more time in areas of the pitch in which he can hurt opponents. He is of course capable of inflicting damage from just about anywhere thanks to his extraordinary speed and strength, but it is in the opposition penalty box that he is most deadly.

This season, one of the most notable changes in his game is that he is getting considerably more touches there. His average of 8.7 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes is up from 7.1 per 90 minutes last year and 5.6 per 90 minutes in 2019/20.

His shot volume has gone in the same direction. This season in the Bundesliga, he is averaging 4.5 efforts on goal per 90 minutes, up from 3.5 per 90 minutes last season. His average of 2.2 shots on target per 90 minutes also represents a significant increase.

Haaland is even providing more ammunition for his team-mates. As well as scoring more himself, the stats show he is creating more chances than at any point in his Dortmund career. Significantly, his numbers for expected assists show the chances are of a higher quality too.

All the numbers point to a player finding new ways to improve – and that should be a frightening prospect for those clubs who end up missing out on his signature.

How could Barcelona afford him?

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero provides an update on Barca’s interest in Erling Haaland and explains how the club could afford such a player

Barcelona’s interest in Haaland was confirmed to Sky Sports News this week by Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero, who cited reports from Spain claiming Raiola and Laporta discussed the transfer during a meeting at the Golden Boy gala in Torino, Italy, on December 13.

“In that moment, there was, not an agreement, but Raiola showed Laporta the decision of Haaland to play in FC Barcelona, if FC Barcelona and Laporte has their economic situation resolved and have enough money to pay the player,” Montero said.

Barcelona, however, are over 1.3 billion euros in debt and lost close to 500 million euros last year alone, casting serious doubt on how they could possibly finance the deal – be it this month or in the summer.

They are said to have taken out a substantial loan from Goldman Sachs, allowing them to buy Ferran Torres from Manchester City earlier this month. But staying within the parameters of Financial Fair Play remains problematic.

“It’s very difficult,” added Montero. “They registered Dani Alves after Kun Aguero left but now they’ve got problems to register Ferran Torres because of Financial Fair Play. So, right now, with Erling Haaland, it seems almost impossible.

“Some players must leave. They are thinking about (Philippe) Coutinho [who has subsequently joined Aston Villa on loan], about (Samuel) Umtiti. And others such as Ousmane Dembele could even do a kind of contract renovation which does not count towards this round of Financial Fair Play.

“It’s a difficult economical exercise to understand but if players like Coutinho and Umtiti leave and Dembele renovates, as Xavi has asked publicly, maybe they could afford this, but it’s extremely difficult at the moment with the economical difficulties Barcelona has.”

European football journalist Andy Brassell, meanwhile, points out Barcelona must also factor wages and agent commission into the finances for any deal for Haaland and wonders if a move to Real Madrid may make more sense for the player if he wants immediate success.

“Barcelona will be able to get the money to pay the transfer fee, if we believe that there’s a release clause of around 75 million euros for him to go next summer,” he told Sky Sports News.

“Raiola has been talking to Barcelona – as he has been to a number of clubs. He wants to give his client the best choice possible.

“But I think there are two big problems with this. Firstly, while they may be able to pay the transfer fee, what about the enormous wages that Haaland will be looking for and the huge commission that Mino Raiola will be looking for?

“That’s something that they will also have to meet, which makes it a very expensive deal.

“I think the other thing is the fact that you’ve seen Haaland help Dortmund win the German Cup last season, but when they fall short, he looks so frustrated and finds it hard to keep it in.

“Barcelona, despite all the great young players they’ve got, are not winning everything in the near future and I think Real Madrid seems a look more logical move for him if he wants to win now.”

What’s been said about Haaland this season?

Emre Can has talked up Erling Haaland's Dortmund influence
Image:
Emre Can has talked up Haaland’s Dortmund influence

Borussia Dortmund manager Marco Rose: “Almost every day he is confronted with some outrageous speculation, and the way Erling handles it as a young player is extraordinary, I think. All of us who work with him are used to it by now.

“He’s much improved compared to last season. He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”

Dortmund midfielder Emre Can: “Everybody knows about Erl’s quality. He helps us as a team a lot. I think the team has more confidence when he’s on the pitch.”

Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham: “I stand here every week and tell you how great he is. The only thing more I can say is that the player you see isn’t a fluke. He doesn’t just turn up after a week on the sun bed, and go out and play. He works his socks off every day to be a better striker. And he’s an even better guy than he is a striker.”

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski: “He’s a great player. He has great potential, but he’s still very young.

“In the future, he has the chance to become the best forward in the world, for sure.

“It’s great to have him in the Bundesliga, to have a young player here to compare [myself] to. I see his face; he has the desire to score goals.

“He is the player who can be the best. It’s not always easy when things are going well. But he has scored a lot of goals already and he’s very young.”

Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk: “Haaland is a special striker, he’s strong, he’s quick. He’s got all the attributes to make a defender’s life very, very difficult.

“The first time was when he was at Salzburg he scored at Anfield. He was very quick, direct. A bit like how Jamie Vardy plays, but Haaland is a bit stronger than Vardy.”

Coutinho joins Villa on loan until end of season

Philippe Coutinho has joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season.

The agreement, which is subject to the player completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy and Coutinho will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.

Villa are paying less than 50 per cent of Coutinho’s weekly wage, plus bonuses, Sky Sports News has been told, and he even agreed to a pay cut, with other clubs offering deals that would have seen him earn 100 per cent of his Barca wage.

Coutinho wanted to return to England and play regular football and sees Villa as an ambitious club that are building something special for the future.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Philippe Coutinho’s best Premier League moments

The Brazil midfielder knows manager Steven Gerrard well having spent two-and-a-half years with him at Liverpool, and is said to already know a lot about Villa and their squad.

Villa have an option to buy Coutinho for £33m in the summer.

One source told Sky Sports News there was also a chance Coutinho could have returned to Liverpool this month and that he would have been open to the move.

However, it is understood Liverpool were not pursuing a move for the 29-year-old during the January transfer window.

Coutinho was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, but he has struggled to hold down a first-team place at the Nou Camp and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

A rewind to 2017 when Philippe Coutinho named Steven Gerrard in his dream 5-a-side team and rated him as the best midfielder he has ever played with

In terms of outgoings, Villa striker Wesley has joined Brazilian side Internacional on loan for the rest of the season.

Gerrard: Coutinho a serial winner

Speaking on Thursday ahead of signing Coutinho, manager Steven Gerrard said:

“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard.

“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.

“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”

Analysis: Coutinho could fill Grealish void

Jack Grealish once commented Philippe Coutinho was one of his favourite players to watch on YouTube. “He always has that one, you know, where he goes left and drops like a little shimmy, which is what I like doing myself.” Now the journey has come full circle.

While Grealish perfected his art enough to earn a £100m move to Manchester City, Coutinho returns to the Premier League to replace him at Aston Villa. If the Brazilian can repeat the form that took him from Liverpool to Barcelona it will be an ideal signing.

There are similarities between the two players. Grealish praised Coutinho’s ability to “go past players like they aren’t there” and that is what Villa so loved about their former captain. They have missed having that player who can make things happen this season.

Is the Coutinho idolised by Grealish still there? At 29, there is time to recapture his best form under old team-mate Steven Gerrard, but his career has drifted at Barcelona. If, like Grealish, Coutinho is inspired by being the main man at Villa Park, there is fun to be had.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

Copa del Rey: Barcelona survive scare | Real revenge

Champions Barcelona survived an early scare as they fought back to secure a 2-1 win at third-tier side Linares Deportivo in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday that sent them into the round of 16.

Barca made the trip to Andalucia missing several players due to COVID-19 and injuries, but coach Xavi Hernandez still decided to rest some key names for the last-32 tie and they fell behind in the 19th minute to a Hugo Diaz header.

Xavi then brought on Frenkie de Jong, Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele in the second half, with the French winger equalising with a low long shot that ‘keeper Brimah Razak failed to stop.

A few minutes later, young academy striker Ferran Jutgla scored the winner with a cross-shot from the corner of the box after a counter-attack.

Dani Alves made his second Barcelona debut more than five years after he left the club to join Juventus in 2016
Image:
Dani Alves made his second Barcelona debut more than five years after he left the club to join Juventus in 2016

“I am very happy to help the team, to do what the coach asks me to do,” Jutgla told reporters. “They came out very strong, perhaps a little stronger than us.”

Barca join Espanyol, Real Sociedad, Valencia, Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano, Mallorca and third-tier Atletico Baleares, who eliminated La Liga side Celta Vigo with a 2-1 win, as the first clubs to advance into the last 16.

Real Madrid face third-tier Alcoyano later on Wednesday and Atletico Madrid host Rayo Majadahonda on Thursday.

It was another poor display from Barcelona, who are fifth in the La Liga standings, 15 points behind leaders Real Madrid.

Linares were on top even after Barca made their substitutions after the break and twice hit the bar.

They also had a goal disallowed by the referee for a narrow offside that could not be checked because Linares’ small stadium could not support the installation of VAR.

The big news going into the game was Dani Alves’s first appearance following his return to the club after six years.

The 38-year-old right-back, who started the game as a winger, became on Wednesday the oldest player to feature for Barcelona in a competitive match, surpassing Jose Manuel Pinto by 54 days.

Madrid gain revenge over minnows Alcoyano

Isco with Real Madrid team-mates after scoring
Image:
Isco with Real Madrid team-mates after scoring

Real Madrid needed a lot of effort and a little luck as they won 3-1 at Alcoyano in the last 32 of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, with two late goals helping them gain revenge for their defeat to the third-tier side last year.

It looked like deja-vu as Real Madrid returned to El Collao Stadium 12 months after being humiliated 2-1 by the same team, who hail from a small town close to Alicante.

Just like last year, Eder Militao headed Real into the lead, but Dani Vega scored a magnificent equaliser, curling a left-footed strike into Andriy Lunins far top corner.

Real went ahead when Alcoyano’s Raul Gonzalez deflected a Marco Asensio shot into the net with his back, wrongfooting goalkeeper Jose Juan.

Two minutes later, substitute Isco took advantage of a mistake by two Alcoyano defenders and, after colliding with Jose Juan, the ball bounced off him and rolled into the goal.

Coutinho to decide future on Friday; Gerrard reunion would be welcomed

Philippe Coutinho is set to make a decision over his future on Friday and would welcome a reunion with Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard.

Villa are understood to be one of two Premier League sides who are keen to sign Coutinho, who wants to return to England and play regular football.

Coutinho is understood to be more than willing to sign for Villa, who are 13th in the Premier League, as he sees them as an ambitious club that are building something special for the future.

The Brazilian midfielder knows Gerrard well having spent two-and-a-half years with him at Liverpool, and is said to already know a lot about Villa and their squad.

One source has told Sky Sports News there was also a chance Coutinho could return to Liverpool this month and that he would be happy to return to Anfield.

However, it is understood that Liverpool will not be pursuing a move for the 29-year-old during the January transfer window.

Coutinho was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, but he has struggled to hold down a first-team place at the Nou Camp and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

There were up to six English clubs in the race to sign Coutinho earlier this week, but there are now only two serious contenders fighting it out for the midfielder.

Gerrard is a big admirer of Coutinho, but he refused to be drawn on the prospect of signing his former team-mate at Thursday’s news conference ahead of Monday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Manchester United.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard remained tight-lipped on a potential move for his former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho

“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard.

“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.

“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

With Philippe Coutinho being linked with a move back to the Premier League, we take a look back at some of his best Premier League goals in a Liverpool shirt

‘Coutinho a serial winner wherever he’s been’

Coutinho, who has scored 28 goals in 105 games for Barca, has struggled since making his dream move to Catalonia, but still managed to win four major trophies as a bit-part player.

Despite widespread belief that Coutinho has underperformed since moving to Spain, Gerrard has defended his former team-mate’s record at the Nou Camp and thinks he still has a lot to offer.

“He won two league titles and two Copa del Reys with Barcelona,” added Gerrard.

“I think if you go and have a look at his Wikipedia page I think you’ll see a serial winner wherever he’s been.

“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the player, he’s a friend of mine, so if I’m asked the questions I can speak for as long as you want.”

Coutinho also spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan at Bayern Munich and won the Champions League, the Bundesliga, and the German Cup under Hansi Flick.

‘Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa’

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Kaveh Solhekol has revealed that a source has said that Philippe Coutinho is interested in playing for Aston Villa

Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:

“Speaking to people on the player’s side of the deal, my feeling about this is that Philippe Coutinho would be interested in joining Aston Villa.

“He knows people at Aston Villa. He knows Steven Gerrard and Christian Purslow from his time at Liverpool. He feels Villa are an up-and-coming club. Gerrard, Purslow and the owners have big plans for the club.

“He also knows the king of quality in the Villa squad, players like Ollie Watkins, Emi Buendia and Emi Martinez, and he feels if he was playing at Villa regularly, he could help them get up the table and into Europe.

“So, I think that is definitely on the cards and as far as Aston Villa are concerned, of course, they are not giving anything away. They are not commenting at all because as far as they are concerned, he’s a Barcelona player.

“From the player’s perspective, I understand Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa and Steven Gerrard.”

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.