Who is Kepa Arrizabalaga? The Spanish shot stopper linked with Real Madrid and Arsenal

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La Liga champions are keen on the highly-rated young keeper as they look for an alternative to Manchester United’s David De Gea, writes Sam May.

It is understood Los Blancos are close to admitting defeat in their pursuit for Spain’s No.1 keeper and will turn their attention to the San Mamés youngster.

So who just is Arrizabalaga?

The 23-year-old Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper is one of the best young players in Europe. At 6ft 2ins, he is blessed with composure and maturity beyond his years. Making a number of high profile saves in the last year, his profile has risen.

Having played 22 times for the Spain Under-21s, he will look to challenge David De Gea in the near future. It’s Arrizabalaga’s decision-making and agility that makes him one of the recent stand out figures in La Liga.

Born in Ondarroa, in the Bay of Biscay, he has been with Athletic Bilbao since the age of ten-years-old. It is unlikely he will extend his stay and will seek a move away. He played at every age group for the club, went out on loan to second division sides Ponferradina and Valladolid, and was then named as third keeper for the first team by Marcelo Bielsa. It was current Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde who gradually made him first choice after originally alternating him with Athletic stalwart Gorka Iraizoz.

Currently in his final year of his Bilbao contract, from January, the keeper is able to sign a pre-contact with another club and both Real Madrid and Arsenal have expressed interest. As he is under 24, Arrizabalaga cannot move on a free transfer so a compensation package would have to be agreed.

A fee of around £18 million is understood to be enough to prize him away from Los Leones. Arsenal have previously scouted the promising keeper, but are unlikely going to be able to match the wages that could be offered by Florentino Perez.

In signing Arrizabalaga, either team would have a tremendous talent for a decade or so.

 

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Who could replace Mesut Özil at Arsenal?

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As it looks more and more likely that the German international could be heading for the exit at the Emirates, Sam May looks at a real option to replace him in North London.

The move by Arsène Wenger to secure the services of Alexandre Lacazette in the summer may have a significant effect on his next move. The replacement of Özil will be key and the door may already be ajar to secure his replacement. Step through Nabil Fekir.

Fekir, 24, is now starting the prime of his years and is a former team mate of the new Gunners star man Lacazette. They had a great understanding last term and no doubt the Frenchman would welcome his friend to the Emirates. By moving to Arsenal last summer Lacazette has unknowingly helped his friend. He now captains the Lyon side and is shining in his extra responsibility. His goal tally of nine in 10 games has already matched his total for last season. He scores free kicks, arrives late in the box for tap-in’s and even has a half way strike to his name – against Bordeaux.

On recent French international duty Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny was quoted “Fekir has great technical ability and makes a difference”. He was probably also impressed with how the central attacking midfielder is prepared to track back as well as drive for goal. Clearly something lacking in Özil’s makeup. He “sees“ situations and is a talent no doubt about that, but Fekir makes things happen. He takes charge, again something lacking generally at Arsenal, and badly needed.

No doubt Wenger was given a full report on his return from international duty. The premiership demands such commitment so Fekir could prove a hit with the North London faithful. Not since 2008 and the arrival of Karim Benzema on the scene at the Stade de Lyon are the powers in the corridors as excited.

The Lyon money men were happy to open, discuss and conclude the sale of their star man Lacazette to the Gunners. The fee of £52.7m was right, so London became his new place of work. He is scoring goals when on the pitch but is still settling in.

The addition of his former playmaker and feeder may turn both Fekir and Lacazette into the key force the gunners currently lack. It will all depend of the price being right. Expect no change from £75m Mr Wenger.

England Under-17’s: What are the chances of the youngsters starring in the Premier League?

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After coming from 2-0 behind the youngest of lions roar back to beat Spain 5-2 and are crowned Under-17 champions in India. What chance do they have of making first team football? Sam May takes a look.

To answer the question, you firstly need to view the players clubs. Manchester City provided three of the senior 14 squad or 21%. Chelsea waded in with five or 36%. After that it is single representatives from Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Tottenham, Manchester United and then one each from the championship sides of Wolves and Fulham.

Interestingly 57% of the squad comes from City and Chelsea combined. Whilst a quirk of the stats also sees 57% of the squad coming from London Clubs. But what are the chances of longer term progression to first team football? Not for the odd game and then moved on, but regular Premier action as a full member of a main squad.

If your one of the Chelsea five – it best if you start looking for other clubs now. Chelsea don’t bring through talent. They go out and buy success. John Terry was the last of the rarest of breeds.

Under Pep Guardiola’s guidance City may offer a better alternative. The game is all about winning and right now the Sky Blues are on the crest of a wave. Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are young and shining – but neither came through their academy, but they may prove that you can win something with youngsters in your side, thus giving the likes of Phil Foden who was player of the tournament in India a chance.

Steve Cooper the manager, an ex Liverpool academy coach so knew all about the tournament’s top goal scorer – Rhian Brewster who moved from Chelsea to Liverpool when 14 years old to get more chance to make it to the first team. The Merseysiders have already stated he will have a bumper contract when he turns 18 to ward of other admirers. Jürgen Klopp loves to give youngsters a chance. Just ask Ben Woodburn and Dominic Solanke (who went to the Reds from Chelsea pre -season after winning the World Cup in the under 20’s – and player of the tournament).

Angel Gomes of Manchester United is the youngest player of the “born after 2000” era to have already tasted first team action, so he can probably emulate Marcus Rashford. Tashan Oakley Boothe of Spurs can look at Harry Kane who did come through the ranks, and Dele Alli, who didn’t, and see youngsters given a major chance. Nya Kirby of Palace clearly is on the London radar. Ex Spurs and subject to potential “tapping up” allegedly by Chelsea, he may get a chance earlier than expected given Palace’s precarious position.

The championship pair of Morgan Gibbs White of Wolves and Steven Sessegnon twin of Ryan at Fulham probably have the best routes of all to the top. Proving themselves in the Championship may mean premier clubs calling.

For Jonathan Panzo, George McEachran (younger brother of Josh), Callum Hudson Odori, Marc Guehl or Conor Gallagher of Chelsea it’s time to sit and think do I stay and take the money on the junior sides, or move now to be a Premier League star of the future.

Football at the top is ruthless, and it is usually strategy which determines a club, not time and talent. They all deserve a real chance. Let’s hope all of the parent clubs think the same.

Who is Alan Souza Guimaraes? The next wonderkid destined to join the stable of young talent at Real Madrid

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Currently shining in the Under-17 Brazilian national team the number 10 who plays for Palmeiras is being lined up by Real Madrid to join them in the summer. But who is he? Sam May gives you the rundown of all you need to know…

The wonderkid currently playing in the Under-17 World Cup in India, has a £44 million buyout clause but the money men at the Santiago Bernabeu are confident of securing his signature for half of that value as his contract moves into its final year.

Alan is described as a “pocket dynamo” as he is only 5’3” feet tall, but let’s remember he is only 17 years-old and has time to grow. Even if he doesn’t, Lionel Messi, is not exactly the tallest in La Liga.

There is an underlying strategy at Los Blancos whereby it seems that they are planning for when Cristiano Ronaldo hangs up his boots. They are looking for a nucleus to take them into the next 10 to 15 seasons. Madrid have previously brought in the high-flying Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos and it seems the Spanish giants aren’t stopping there when it comes to building for the future.

Alan would join up with Vinicius another Brazilian, a year older who they signed from, and loaned back to Flamenco. He would also join up with 18-year-old Scandinavian Martin Odegaard who is currently loaned out to Heerenveen and Federico Valverde, 19, on-loan at Deportivo La Caruna.

The Under-17 World Cup has also thrown up yet another Brazilian who could attract the top table clubs. Lincoln, is a 16-year-old who has scored three goals in the first four games of the tournament. He has yet to make his debut at Flamingo but is already being compared to Adriano the former Inter Milan striker who started out at the same club. Both are the classic number 9 with an instinct for finding the back of the net.

Real are planning for the future. Landing Alan and potentially Lincoln could well be another set of jigsaw pieces to take a picture of dominance on the European stage for years to come.

Harry Kane to Real Madrid: Tottenham striker would be the perfect Karim Benzema replacement next summer

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The Spanish giants have been linked with moves for Spurs duo Dele Alli and manager Mauricio Pochettinho, but Harry Kane is the player Los Blancos desperately need, writes Sam May.

On the eve of Tottenham’s UEFA Champions League clash with Real Madrid, there is no surprise that reports linking the Spurs striker with a move to Los Blancos next summer have emerged. Despite being dubbed as the ‘complete player’ by Galacticos manager Zinedine Zidane, the Frenchman has made it clear he would not be drawn to signing the 24-year-old.

There are three reasons why Florentino Pérez might be picking up the phone to call Daniel Levy for the first time since he handed over Gareth Bale for £89 million in 2013. It is clear Real Madrid need a new striker and they are said to be keen admirers of the marketable Englishman. Having sold Álvaro Morata to Chelsea last summer, Los Blancos have failed to replace their former Spanish striker. Karim Benzema has been injured the last month and he is now 30.

Benzema’s quality is there to see, but his physical problems will only increase as time progresses. He has recently signed until 2021, but that doesn’t mean they wont sign a new striker next summer, they will for sure.

Pochettino, Fernando Llorente, Pep Guardiola and Morata have all heaped praise on the England international who has 43 goals in 38 games for club and country in 2017, so there is no wonder he is the poster boy splashed on the front of Spanish sports newspaper Marca when he arrives in the Spanish capital.

Madrid have money in the bank and are ready to splash the cash. They may wait until after the World Cup to make a move as they did when signing James Rodríguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas – all three who stared at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil back in 2014. Pérez signed David Beckham in 2003, and Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate followed. He knows Madrid’s Asian market responds well to British players.

Whether he makes a move next summer or not, what Kane does know, is all eyes will be on him when he walks out for Spurs tomorrow night, with a point to prove.

 

Saturday showdown: Liverpool v Manchester United – what could we expect?

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The early kick off this weekend sees the eagerly awaited first meeting of England’s two most successful teams – and bitter rivals in this year’s Premiership season. But what can we expect? Writes Sam May.

History it is said goes out of the window, as does form in this fixture, but there are signs and pointers as to what could happen. Manchester United sit proudly at the top of the pile whist Liverpool languish already in seventh place, so yet again their seasons highlight so far would be to beat the old enemy. Are they likely to do it?

The difference between the two sides is blindingly obvious – United don’t have better players, but what they do have is much better than the Merseysiders at present, is a manager who knows how to win, and win ugly if needs be. Two recent perfect examples highlight the different approaches to managing the game, to win. United at Southampton produced a 1-0 win for the Red Devils. That’s all that mattered.

They scored a goal, got their noses in front and soaked up the pressure, and lots of pressure it was. In the second half the Saints had over 70% possession and lots of chances, but the Red Devils stood firm, packed the midfield and latterly the defence. Made the goal small by packing the goal line from set pieces and protected the world-class goalkeeper David De Gea.

Liverpool on their recent trip to the former champions Leicester City – who beat them 2-0 in the corresponding fixture last season, worked hard to get into a 2-0 lead going into the last play of the first half. A corner swung in, nobody inside any post making the goal as big as can be.

Simon Mignolet was afforded no protection from any outfield player and was man handled by Shinji Okazaki as he tried to come to punch. Jordan Henderson and Alberto Moreno were 12 yards from goal marking nothing and nobody. Had both been on posts the Reds would have gone in at half time two up. This would have played into their counter attack in the second half and no doubt the game would have been over. As it was it took the keeper to save splendidly from Vardy to secure the 3 points. But luck doesn’t last.

Jürgen Klopp will probably get a lesson on how to win, and win ugly. No prizes for excitement, it’s all about the points, so expect the men from Manchester to plunder all three.

Dael Fry: Who is Middlesbrough’s impressive starlet?

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The youngster has impressed at the heart of the Boro defence this season alerting a number of Premier League clubs, writes Sam May.

He was spotted playing for his local side Cleveland Juniors at the age of seven, and joined the renowned academy. Throughout the various youth teams, Fry has made an impression catapulting him forwards. In October 2014, he signed his first professional contract with the club.

Having spent last season on-loan at Rotherham United, he was a member of the England Under 20s squad that won the World Cup in South Korea last summer, and has represented England at every level from Under 17’s to the world cup winning squad.

He has played nine games under manager Garry Monk this season, but was taken out of the team last week against Norwich City, probably due to needing a rest at such a young age. A couple of weeks shy of his 20th birthday, the talented Teesside teenager has adapted to a pretty unfamiliar formation as though he’d been playing that system for most of his fledgling career.

Ex-Boro boss Aitor Karanka previously said about Fry: “Dael is a player who every single day impresses you. He is quiet, but sometimes you can still transmit your energy and focus, he’s the kind of player who doesn’t need to speak or say anything to show how good he is and how mature he is.

“He thinks about football, his training is always perfect, his attitude is always perfect. His character; you look at him, you look at his face and his face is the same one hour, or three hours before the game.”

Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton and Leicester are all interested in securing the classy young defenders signature. Whether his hometown club can keep hold of him is another matter.

If Ben Gibson leaves Boro in January or the summer, then Monk’s side have an ideal replacement. Fry has looked more than capable of filling one of the centre-back berths just about every time he’s pulled on a first team Boro shirt and could yet have a big part to play in the club’s promotion push, if they can keep hold of him.