Who could replace Danny Blind as Netherlands boss?

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The Dutch were beaten 2-0 by Bulgaria in their World Cup qualifier, leaving their qualification hopes hanging by a thread, writes Sam May.

Saturday’s 2-0 defeat in Sofia was Netherland’s second in their opening five games in World Cup qualifying Group A and left them in fourth place in the pool, already six points behind leaders France and three behind second-placed Sweden. This, after the Dutch failed to qualify for last summer’s Euro finals too.

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has called time on the former defender’s reign after only 20 months and 18 matches. Fred Grim will take temporary charge whilst the search for a new manager continues.

But who could replace Blind?

 

Louis Van Gaal

The 65-year-old could take up the reigns a second time and is the most likely candidate for the job. Former Manchester United Van Gaal, who suffered a tough time at Old Trafford, led the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals in 2014. Having denied retirement earlier this year, he would be the perfect fit. Taking the role could mean the Dutchman would end his career on a high. He was also highly respected amongst the Dutch camp when previously managing the side.

Frank De Boer

De Boer, 46, would be another candidate who should be considered. Having led Ajax to four straight Eredivise titles, he has more than what it takes to become head coach of the national team. His spell with Inter Milan was certainly one to forget, but the qualities and tactical awareness of De Boer would greatly benefit the KVB. He is the most capped outfield player in the history of the Netherlands national football team, with 112 caps, and captained the Oranje to the semi-finals of both the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000.

Ronald Koeman

He is an outside candidate at present but should not be discounted. Everton boss Koeman was expected to take the role following Louis Van Gaal’s departure in 2014. The former Feyenoord and Southampton manager did claim he wanted the position, only for the KVB to appointed Guus Hiddink instead. The 54-year-old has also been linked with the Barcelona job to replace Luis Enrique. Ronald Koeman is one of five European players to ever win a treble with their club and a cup with their national team in the same year. The other four players are his teammates Hans van Breukelen, Berry van Aerle, Gerald Vanenburg and Wim Kieft. He’d be the perfect option, but he may wait to see if Barcelona come calling.

Jürgen Klinsmann

Klinsmann was a huge success for the Germany national team, spending five years there, before leaving for Bayern Munich and then the United States. He would offer the stability the Dutch need, and would bring a style of attacking relentless football – something that is lacking at the moment. The 52-year-old, won the World Cup as a player with Germany in 1990, but would he be accepted by the Dutch?

 

The other candidates…

Ron Jans – He who has confirmed his departure with PEC Zwolle at the end of the season and could be a surprise option.

Jaap Stam – Current manager of Reading who learnt his tactics at Jong Ajax. Could he be the man to rejuvenate the Oranje?

Martin Jol – The experienced 61-year-old previously managed Ajax, Tottenham, Hamburg and Fulham, and would be seen as an interim replacement, rather than a long-term successor.

Whoever lands the role will certainly have a thankless job. The Dutch need instant turnaround in attitude and drive. The KNVB may have to appoint on the basis that World Cup qualification is unlikely, so plan for more longer term.

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Why Chelsea should make a move for Michael Keane

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The 23 year-old Burnley defender would be the perfect option for the Blues at the back, writes Sam May.

 Antonio Conte is considering a £25 million bid for the impressive Clarets centre-back as he looks to transition his defence. With questions raised over the future of captain John Terry, 35, the Stamford Bridge side will look to secure a replacement for the most long serving player at any Premier League club.

The Blues also have Nathan Aké, who recently returned from his loan spell at Bournemouth, but is not breaking into the team, and may move again in the summer.

Burnley have already turned down offers from Premier League clubs, in the region of £15 million. The player was not for sale. A higher bid in the summer however could tempt Sean Dyche into cashing in.

Kean started at Manchester United a club that he states is still close to his heart. He left the Red Devils to join Burnley in 2015 on a three-and-a-half-year deal after not being given the chance to showcase his talent at Old Trafford.

Having been called up to the England set-up last year, Keane who has played for England at under-19, under-20 and under-21 levels, will be hoping to cement a regular place in Gareth Southgate’s squad. If he continues to perform then expect him feature sooner, rather than later.

Signing for Chelsea would give him Champions League experience, and pit him against the best in Europe. Aerially he is very strong meaning he can be an asset in both penalty boxes. Rarely making mistakes, he has improved vastly over the past 12 months. The Clarets have provided an excellent football education for Keane, but he is outgrowing Burnley’s aspirations, so a move is on the cards.

Antonio Conte is a great coach, especially in the defensive half and Keane would benefit from working with the Italian. Moreover, Keane is a homegrown player and Chelsea have a distinct lack of these on their books. This is a major reason why they are sourcing English centre-back targets and he is one of the best options available. It would be a good move for Chelsea, and a great move for Keane.

Manchester City v Liverpool: It could be a goal fest

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Defensive frailties means there should be plenty of goals on Sunday, writes Sam May.

Manchester City take on Liverpool, as the Sky Blues look to put their Champions League disappointment behind them, and secure all three points at the Ethiad Stadium on Sunday.

City have failed to keep a clean sheet in each of their last 12 games against Liverpool in all competitions, meaning if history repeats itself, City will have to score at least two to win. However, Liverpool’s 4-1 win in this fixture last season is their only victory in the last seven Premier League meetings at the Etihad Stadium.

The home side could include Yaya Touré and Nicolas Otamendi, both who dropped to the bench in Wednesday’s defeat by Monaco. The Sky Blues remain without long-term absentees Gabriel Jesus and İlkay Gündoğan. The Liverpool attacking line up is still uncertain with Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi both doubts. Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge are still sidelined due to injuries.

Pep Guardiola will be hoping his side can take revenge having been defeated by the Reds 1-0 earlier in the season. A victory for the Reds would ensure they become the first team to record a top-flight double against a side managed by Pep Guardiola.

Liverpool are unbeaten in nine league games this season against the top six sides prior to the latest round of matches, winning five of them. Philippe Coutinho has scored four Premier League goals in five games against Manchester City – more than against any other team. He also netted against City in last season’s League Cup final. Sadio Mané has had a hand in four goals in his last three Premier League appearances against City (three goals, one assist).

City defender John Stones, who had a night to forget in the South of France last Wednesday, will hope to put in a solid performance against Jürgen Klopp’s side. The former Everton defender could make his 100th Premier League appearance, if selected. Meanwhile, Sergio Aguero has scored in all four of his Premier League games versus Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium (four goals) – despite never having netted at Anfield.

Liverpool would leapfrog City in the league standings if they win. The Sky Blues will want a win to put the nightmare of Monaco behind them. Goals rather than great defending will determine who wins the spoils this Sunday.

Barcelona’s next manager: Who could replace Luis Enrique?

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The 46-year-old Blaugrana manager is to step down at the end of the season, and there are four candidates the Catalan giants could consider, writes Sam May.

There is an identity – mes que un club – to be upheld that encompasses a range of ideals, from the team’s on-pitch style of play to its off-pitch status as a global symbol of Catalan culture.

Who could fill the Camp Nou hot seat?

 

Ernesto Valverde

The 53-year-old Athletic Bilbao coach could be the perfect replacement for the outgoing Enrique. He has a good knowledge of the club and the culture. Valverde spent two seasons with the La Liga giants as player, making 22 appearances so he understands the model and has the education to be able to lead the Blaugrana.

He has guided Bilbao to fourth, seventh and fifth in his three seasons at the club and his team currently sits in seventh place this year. He also took the San Mamés side to the Copa del Rey final in his second season in charge. It’s his use of Basque players which has been most effective with the likes of Ander Herrera moving to Manchester United. His biggest achievement was winning the Greek Super League with Olympiakos three times as a manager.

Barcelona have a significant emphasis on the development of academy players and Valverde is the man to continue this. He has nurtured the likes of defender Aymeric Laporte, Mikel San Jose and Iñaki Williams into first-team stars. If being appointed, it could prove a huge task to step up and manage a club as big as Barcelona, but there is no doubt he would fit the bill at the Camp Nou.

 

Mauricio Pochettino

The Tottenham head coach has emerged as one of the favourites to takeover the reigns at the Camp Nou. His style of football would be something, which would be embraced by the Barcelona fans. Having caught the eye of Barca chiefs, they could persuade him to make the move to Catalonia.

However, any potential move would mean a return to La Liga for Pochettino, who was Espanyol boss between 2009 and 2012, before moving to England to take over the reins at Southampton – where he spent a year-and-a-half. So moving back to Spain to join his former clubs rivals wouldn’t be a wise move. The former Paris Saint-Germain defender took over at White Hart Lane in May 2014 on a five-year deal. The 44-year-old only agreed to an extension on his contract in May 2016 to commit his future to Spurs, so moving away would be very unlikely.

 

Jorge Sampaoli

A popular a choice amongst most fans, the 56-year-old former Chile manager is doing a fantastic job at Sevilla who currently sit third in La Liga. The fiery and intense manager also has a Copa America under his belt. There is no doubt Sampaoli would fit Barcelona’s style of play due to his fast moving and pressing game he has adopted from the Marcelo Bielsa school, who influenced the likes of Pep Guardiola.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu met Sampaoli in the summer although it was an informal meeting and the job was not discussed, while the Argentine coach has been present in the presidential box at Camp Nou in the past, attending the Clasico in April – it seems the Barca board may prefer Sampaoli over other candidates.

 

Ronald Koeman

Everton manager has been linked with job because he is an ex-player rather than the fact he could fit their style. Koeman was part of Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team and spent a trophy-laden six years at the Camp Nou. As a manager he has won three Eredivisie titles, had a good spell at Southampton, and is about to record a good debut season with Everton.

Koeman likes his team to keep the ball and fight to win it back. The 53-year-old is known for giving youth a chance, so if he took the reigns he would mostly improve the current crop of players in the academy and promote a couple to the first-team. If Koeman does depart the Toffees, then former Inter Milan coach Frank De Boer who is currently out of work, could head to Merseyside as his replacement. It’s unlikely the former Southampton manager will swap Goodison Park for the Camp Nou. He contact with Everton runs until 2019.

Who do you think will be appointed the next Barcelona manager?

Should Liverpool stick or twist with Emre Can?

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The German powerhouse has failed to live up to expectations and been ineffective, writes Sam May.

Many Liverpool fans would moan if you mentioned the words ‘Emre Can’, but the 23-year-olds confidence has been hit, as this has been evident in his poor performances. Jürgen Klopp has kept faith with the midfielder, despite murmurings from the fans that the player should be dropped. The 49-year-old Kop boss has remained loyal and backed the under fire German.

After swapping the BayArena for Anfield in 2014 for £9.75 million, some fans were even quoted saying he is future captain material, he is far from it. Can holds the ball for a large amount of time and chooses the easy option of passing it side ways and backwards, instead of playing through balls or breaking down opposing defences. Making poor decisions consistently, this is something that is unacceptable as a Reds midfield maestro.

Perhaps a move into central defence could help Can re-capture his form. He was used in a number of positions during Euro 2016 for Germany, so the Reds should consider a positing alteration.

“He (Can) is a player who can be used in a lot of different positions,” Germany manager Joachim Löw said during Euro 2016. “In training, he has been very convincing. Physically he is very strong and skilled. I think that a player like Can would do our game a lot of good.”

A new contract of £100,000 a week is what the player and his representatives are holding out for, with further talks set to take place soon. He will enter his final year of his contact this summer, and has attracted interest from around Europe.

Liverpool should consider offloading Can and bring in either Naby Keïta, 22, who has shone and been a driving force in the Red Bull Leipzig midfield this season. Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 21-year-old Mahmoud Dahoud would be another alternative for the Reds.

Juventus, Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen are keen on Can’s services, and if the right money is brought to the table, the Reds should cash in.

Andrea Belotti: Torino’s talisman on top of the world

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Scoring the fastest Serie A hat-trick in 17 years, beating Andriy Shevchenko, he has quickly become one of the best strikers in Europe, writes Sam May.

Belotti, 23, netted a seven-minute, second half quick fire treble in his teams 3-1 victory over Palermo. Shevchenko scored three times between the 69th and 76th minute for AC Milan back in 2000, during a freescoring spell in Serie A where the Ukranian bagged 117 league goals over a seven year period.

Scoring all three in a six-minute blast, Belotti helped his team to three points and took his goal tally to 22 Serie A goals for the season. The player has a €100 million release clause in his contract, which would potentially put off most suitors. However, if he continues in this vain of form, his release could be triggered by one of Europe’s elite.

He began his career playing for Gorlago and Grumellese, after failing to make the grade with Atlanta and later joined AlbinoLeffe. At 18, Belotti recalls when he wanted to party with friends but stayed in, following his father, who drilled it into him to that work ethic was key and would help him to reach to the top of football. It’s his relentless attitude – an attitude shaped by his family and background – that has underpinned his career path thus far. He has been likened to Gianluca Vialli by Alessio Pala, his former coach at AlbinoLeffe and Christian Vieri by Fabio Cannavaro.

Pala believes he would never of expected his former player to reach the top so quickly and lead the line for the Italian national team. Belotti failed to score in his first 10 games for Torino following his summer €7.5 million move in 2015, however a goal against Bologna in November changed everything. He has a stunning 24 goals in 27 appearances in all competitions.

Creating 39 chances, this is more than any other player in Italy. This sheer physical and mental force, also has a pass success rate of 78% which will only increase should he move to a bigger club in the future. With the shoulders of a professional boxer, a threatening aerial presence and a powerful style, Belotti’s game is reminiscent of the classic English centre-forward.

Arsenal had previously targeted the Azzuri international in January, lodging a £56 million bid, which was rejected. Expect a number of Premier League sides including both Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool to interested. No doubt, the European giants will also be running the rule over the striker this summer.