Who is new Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde and what can he bring?


Barcelona are set to name their new coach on Monday evening, with Ernesto Valverde taking the reigns.

The former Athletic Bilbao manager stepped down from his position with the club last week and is the perfect replacement for Luis Enrique, who is to leave Barcelona after three years in charge at the Camp Nou.

But just who is Ernesto Valverde? Sam May gives you the rundown of all you need to know…

Having previously been at the Catalan giants Valverde spent two years at the Camp Nou under Johan Cruyff. The 53-year-old, helped win the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989 and Copa del Rey in 1990.

Spending the majority of his time at Bilbao, he clocked up 170 appearances for the Basque club and scored 44 goals. He had to spells as manager at the club between 2003-05, and then from 2013 until the end of last season. He has also managed in Greece for three years with Olympiakos, helping them to three league titles and two cups.

Barcelona have been far from their best under Enrique and with the immediate arrival of Valverde, he will steady the ship. There are question marks over a number of Barcelona’s senior players, with Lucas Digne, Jordi Alba, Jérémy Mathieu and Javier Mascherano.

Valverde will also look to sign a right back and may target the likes of Héctor Bellerín of Arsenal, João Cancelo of Valencia or Southampton’s Cédric Soares, who have all been previous targets.

A new centre back will also be on the agenda to provide competition for Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti, so he may look to raid his former club for either Mikel San José or Aymeric Laporte. He could also target a move for Javi Martínez of Bayern Munich, who would be the perfect replacement for Mascherano. The striking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar are all expected to stay this summer.

He will have to recruit well and hit the ground running as the Catalan fans wont accept another season playing second fiddle to their bitter rivals Real Madrid, who could also be European Champions when the new La Liga season kicks off.


Lucas Leiva: Fond farewell or see you next season for the Liverpool midfielder?


Lucas Leiva, a used substitute against Middleborough may tell us something of his future. Will he be staying or will he be ploughing his trade elsewhere when the new season begins? Writes Sam May.

He was brought on in the 78th minute for Roberto Firmino, and was given a rapturous welcome by the relived to be 3-0 up faithful.

What was telling immediately though was James Milner went over to put the captain’s armband on Lucas and then gave him an affectionate embrace – one of well done mate, enjoy, were going to miss you. A sign that it was to be his first outing in the new 125-year anniversary kit, but his last at Anfield?

Prior to the usual end of season walk around after the final whistle we perhaps got the biggest hint though that Lucas had played his last game at Anfield. He was introduced to the waiting crowd and interviewed on the pitch due to his 10 years at the club. The longest serving member of the squad. The last of the Rafael Benítez era, and was presented with a memento “21”, his squad number, from Reds legend King Kenny.

Careful to avoid the do you think you will be here next year question? He was asked about his highs and lows, and about being a scouse Brazilian as one banner suggested in the Kop. Lucas answered it was just great to be part of it all – and the fact that both of his kids were Merseyside born, he felt more than at home in the city.

With one year left on his contract it’s usually the time to stick or twist with players in such situations.  Jürgen Klopp may well have already told the 30-year-old he can go. He may even be the makeweight that brings Luan from Grêmio, meaning Lucas could return to his home club. If he goes, he leaves with the memory of the huge thank you he received yesterday, as one of Anfield’s own.

Should Liverpool make a move for Kelechi Iheanacho?


The Manchester City forward is surplus to requirements at the Ethiad and could be the perfect addition at Anfield, writes Sam May.

Iheanacho, 20, has been told he can leave Pep Guardiola’s side for £20 million after being previously tipped for the top by former Sky Blues manager Manuel Pellegrini. The Nigerian has scored 21 goals for the club, despite making only 20 starts, and could add something extra to Jürgen Klopp’s side.

Borussia Dortmund have expressed an interest, and are keen to take the player to Germany. Hoffenheim and Southampton, are also keen, but both clubs are only interested in a loan deal. Iheanacho’s game time has been restricted due to the arrival of £27 million signing Gabriel Jesus.

Iheanacho joined Manchester City from the Taye Academy in Nigeria, and is under contract until 2021. In 2015, he averaged a goal every 81.3 minutes played, which is extremely impressive considering his age, but even more so given the fact that of all players to score at least 10 goals across the top five European leagues, it is the best minutes per goal rate. Superstars Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema have all outscored the City youngster but play much more regularly, and actually score with less frequency.

He has an obviously instinctive eye for goal, hitting the target with 58.3 per cent of his attempts, and scoring with 41.7 per cent of those, both of which rank among the best in the Premier League. With Daniel Sturridge’s future uncertain, the Nigerian would be the perfect replacement for the injury prone Reds striker. The Birmingham born player has only started six games for Liverpool so far this season due to illness and injuries, with Roberto Firmino and top-scorer Sadio Mané moving above him in the pecking order.

Despite scoring and impressing against West Ham, most Liverpool fans expect Sturridge to depart, and moving for Iheanacho would prove the right decision for Klopp and his coaching staff.

Who is Vinícius Júnior?


Real Madrid have beat archrivals Barcelona to the signing of 16-year-old Vinícius Júnior, but who is the Brazilian teen sensation?

Sam May gives you the rundown of all you need to know…

Dubbed ‘the new Neymar’, he has agreed to join Real Madrid in 2018 for £33.7million. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he joined Flamengo and began his rise to prominence aged 10 before staring for the under-13s.

Before moving to join his uncle in the centre of Rio at the age of 14, he was playing on the streets of São Gonçalo, but moved so he could commit to training more frequently, the training, which helped to develop the wonderkid, he is today.

He announced his arrival onto the scene against Botafogo, scoring the opening goal of Rio de Janeiro junior Cup in October in the Classico. Despite playing for Flamengo and the Brazil youth teams, he is yet to play for either at the top level. Being top scorer with seven goals, for Brazil in the South American Under-17 Football Championships earlier this year, he helped his side to claim their 12th title.

“Vinícius has everything to become a top-quality player, to move up to the senior Brazil squad and play for the biggest clubs around the world,” Brazil Under-17s coach Carlos Amadeu told Brasil Global Tour.

“If he remains focused on his goals, he has all the tools. He has a lot of technical qualities and is showing a cool head in amongst all the glamor that is currently surrounding him. He has remained balanced, and if he stays like that he can reach the top.”

Neymar, who he is compared to, is said be annoyed with Barca for failing to seal the deal. He is the brightest star in Brazilian youth football – bringing in a fee £10m more than Manchester City paid for Gabriel Jesus in January. Real Madrid will hope they can turn him into their next superstar.

Paulo Dybala: The rise of Juventus’ ‘La Joya’


The 23-year-old Argentinian striker is tremendously talented and was key to helping his side to a 2-0 victory over Monaco in mid-week, writes Sam May.

Dybala even though he failed to have any key chances, was a threat all night on the right channel causing problems to the Monaco defence, and linking up superbly with Dani Alves.

By the next World Cup final, Argentina’s front three in Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín will all be over 30. A place should be available, who should get it?

Turn to Turin and there is one man waiting in the wings, the sensational and remarkable front man, quick, creative and has excellent technical ability. Dybala has achieved just six caps for his national team, but he looks the likely candidate to spearhead the Argentinean attack at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Don’t count Russia out next year at this rate either, he has more than what it takes to take on all three of his teammates for a starting birth.

He has netted nine goals and created six for Juventus in Serie A this season, after scoring 19 and setting up nine last year. Scoring two goals against Barcelona in the quarter final stages of the Champions League has got him four goals in seven starts, and world football is now siting up and taking notice.

His nickname “La Joya” “the jewel”, comes from an Argentinean journalist, after Dybala scored for Cordoba at the age of 17, taking the record for the club’s youngest goalscorer from Mario Kempes. This is a player who could have played for Poland. His grandfather grew up working in Krasniow, before emigrating to Argentina.

Former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan, who played with Agüero during his time at Atlético Madrid, has also compared him as “the new Sergio Agüero”. Forwards Vincenzo Montella, Alessandro Del Piero, and Roberto Baggio, have also previously described Dybala as the number 10 of the future. Great references indeed.

Due to his pace, positioning, intelligent movement, and ball skills, he excels during counter-attacks and at beating the offside trap when making attacking runs. A hardworking player, he is also known for his stamina and defensive contribution off the ball. Dybala is capable of creating chances for teammates, as well as scoring goals himself, due to his vision, passing, link-up play, and ability to drop deep and play off of others. He has powerful and accurate ball-striking ability from both inside and outside the area.

Former Arsenal legend and now TV pundit, Ian Wright gave this thoughts on the striker after the game on Tuesday night: “His movement, his positions he takes up in the box, are excellent” the former Arsenal man said on BT Sport. “His technique is very good and he gets into those spaces where he can arrive and he finishes well. That was a clever finish (against Barcelona); he’s bent it around him. Him and (Gonzalo) Higuaín link up well and in the league, they are doing brilliantly.”

In the reverse fixture at Stade Louis II, he will no doubt cause Leonardo Jardin’s side more problems, linking up with Alves again, and probably help his side to progress to the Champions League final in Cardiff.