Chelsea would be mad to sell Juan Mata

Of all the silly season transfer chatter, the most bizarre is that linking Juan Mata with a move away from Stamford Bridge. Even more ridiculous is the expression ‘surplus to requirements’. That is something you would use to describe Marko Marin perhaps but not Juan Mata. As with discussion on the future of David Luiz much of this is based around total misunderstanding of a ‘Jose Mourinho’ player. In the case of David Luiz, as Martin Keown put on commentary last night, he is not a Mourinho defender because he is not ‘like John Terry’. Of course, this is because in England Mourinho has only managed Chelsea with a brief bothersome overseas adventure. Never mind the fact that Sergio Ramos, Lucio and Ricardo Carvalho, Mourinho’s key men at Real, Inter and Porto/Chelsea were more than a little David Luiz like. The same misunderstanding is true of Juan Mata.

‘Oh, he’s too small, he’s too slow, he doesn’t work hard in defence’. These are the apparent flaws in Mata’s game that make him ill suited to Jose Mourinho. Contrary to that though, Chelsea are being linked with Wesley Sneijder with whom Mourinho won the Champions League at Inter Milan. Sneijder is ‘too small, too slow, and doesn’t work hard enough in defence’ for Mourinho too though right? How about Mesut Ozil? He’s not a bulldozer. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t work hard in defence, neither did Arjen Robben, neither did Samuel Eto’o. Goran Pandev wasn’t quick. Deco was his key man at Porto, he was small, slow and didn’t work hard in defence.

Juan Mata

It is through this prism that you start to understand the press linking Mata away from Chelsea. They think a ‘Mourinho team’ constitutes Chelsea circa 2004-06. No other type of player is desirable for Mourinho according to opinion in England. Never mind that at Porto, Inter and Real Madrid he operated a pure number 10. Deco, Sneijder and Ozil are very similar players to Juan Mata. They scored goals, they made goals, they play ran through them, and they offered the spark of inspiration and invention in attack. Last time at Chelsea he didn’t, but he had Frank Lampard scoring a ton of goals and was blessed with Claude Makelele and Michael Essien in midfield. Remember though, when Mourinho first arrived one of his first targets was Deco and he only lost out on him to Barcelona. Mourinho has always had a Mata type in his team so it’s nonsense to say he doesn’t fit the prototype.

That isn’t to say Chelsea certainly won’t sell him, they are perhaps the most unpredictable in the transfer market. But who are they selling him to? Maybe Real Madrid? Possibly. But who else? And why?

The other apparent reason is the stack of attacking midfielders Chelsea have at the club, but other than Oscar there’s no one else that can play the role Mata can play. Looking in Mourinho’s history, he already has the personnel he needs there. At Inter he had the trickery of Pandev opposite the directness and speed of Eto’o. Sound like De Bruyne/Oscar and Hazard/Schurrle? At Real he had the trickery of Angel Di Maria and the directness of Ronaldo. Sound like De Bruyne/Oscar and Hazard/Schurrle? Even at Chelsea he had Damien Duff and Robben in those roles.

Only Juan Mata has the silkyness, fleet feet and creativity to play in that spot right now and frankly, there aren’t many better players in the world at that job. If they sold him and played Hazard there they’d get worse in two spots. Hazard is a quality player but best out wider so they’d be using him inefficiently and playing someone worse than him out wide. There is literally no set up in which they get better after selling Mata.

Chelsea would be mad to sell Juan Mata but they’re not going to. The talk has begun because of a lack of understanding of Jose Mourinho’s tactical history. In England a Mourinho man is one that he used between 2004 and 2006 and so he therefore wants to get rid of anyone that isn’t a big physical player at Chelsea. It explains why he is constantly linked to inferior players like Edin Dzeko and Hulk up top and big but red raw defenders like Eliaquim Mangala. His last team at Chelsea happened to have world class footballers who were all big and athletic. But at every club in Mourinho’s career he has found space for small, creative attackers who have been his key men. There’s no reason for Mata not to follow in the footsteps of Deco, Sneijder and Ozil as Mourinho’s little genius.

Chelsea to move for Xabi Alonso?

With all the names being bandied about in connection to Chelsea it can be difficult to know what to focus on, but among the links, the name of Xabi Alonso stands out for various reasons. For a start, unlike Edin Dzeko, or Wesley Sneijder or worst of all Hulk, this actually makes sense. A lot of sense. Secondly, unlike those names, this one would be a true test of the pull of Jose Mourinho and of whether or not he burned his bridges in Madrid. If he can persuade Xabi Alonso to follow him it will put much of that to rest. Lastly, and most importantly, Alonso only has one year left on his contract and doesn’t seem likely to sign a new one. Madrid may be willing to sell him now and focus on going after the likes of Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez with the money.

Chelsea could have great success with Xabi Alonso in their midfield because they already have the personnel the like of which he has had success with before. At Real he plays alongside Sami Khedira, a box-to-box player known for his relentless energy and ability to nab a goal. Chelsea have Ramires and Frank Lampard who can do that. With Spain he plays behind Iniesta and Silva, little technicians that he can supply intricate passes to. Chelsea have the three amigos. At Liverpool he was able to supply a rapid and constantly moving Fernando Torres with endless supply. Chelsea seem likely to sign Edinson Cavani. And do also have a now broken version of Fernando Torres just in case.

Xabi Alonso

The Chelsea midfield lacks a little for tactical intelligence and sensible positioning. Ramires can be a little reckless, like an untamed colt desperate to show what he can do. Jon Obi Mikel is pedestrian and prone to defensive error and Lampard is much more dangerous on the front foot. Alonso has won the World Cup, two European Champions, the Champions League and La Liga, so knows how to organise a team. He also possesses a passing range that none of Chelsea’s options do and is always open to receive the ball.

At times last year Chelsea got a bit frenetic, lacking a calming presence in the midfield. Whilst Ramires and David Luiz were buccaneering options and Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar needed the ball supplied to them quickly and often, this left them liable to getting split open. Alonso can bring the calm and control and make himself available to receive an easy pass and change tempo.

Mourinho has had success with Alonso in that role at Real Madrid and has usually liked a player of his type. At Porto he had Costinha, at Chelsea he had Claude Makelele, at Inter he had Esteban Cambiasso. Chelsea don’t have one at the moment so a move for Alonso could be ideal. Real would probably hold out for £10-12m and although he is 31 and only has a year on his contract it’s an acceptable amount.

The final advantage with signing Alonso is the effect it could have on Nathaniel Chalobah. The 18 year old was a star on loan at Watford last season and has a lot of Alonso about him. If Alonso is signed, he will be coming for a three year stint as the starter, during which time Chalobah can be readied to take over from him and learn from him.

Signing Alonso would give Chelsea exactly what they need right now and help them plan for the future.

Chelsea to move for Wesley Sneijder? Why?

Following Jose Mourinho’s reappointment as manager of Chelsea, rumours are rife over a host of players that the Portuguese coach will look to bring to Stamford Bridge. The Blues are certain to bolster their squad this summer, but one surprising name reportedly on Mourinho’s hitlist is Wesley Sneijder.

A new striker is surely on Chelsea’s wishlist, with Bwin odds suggesting Fernando Torres could leave Stamford Bridge this summer. The likes of Hulk and Edinson Cavani are constantly linked to the Blues, and this is understandable. A central defender would also be a sensible purchase, given that John Terry’s future is up in the air, while Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz are happier playing in other positions.

Sneijder did play a significant role in helping Mourinho’s Inter team to the Champions League crown in 2009-10, and the pair are said to have a good relationship. That said, surely with the likes of Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata in the west London club’s squad, another playmaker is the last thing the Blues need?

Jose Mourinho

Sneijder’s purchase would be a surprising one given that he only moved to Galatasaray at the turn of the year. The Netherlands international certainly is a class act, but he has failed to show the kind of quality of late that Mourinho was accustomed to during their time together in Milan.

There is an argument that Sneijder could play as one of the two holding midfielders in the current 4-2-3-1 system, and look to use the ball from deep. Mourinho likes to play players of experience and that he knows, and Sneijder still has the ability to play at the highest level, if on form.

However, given Chelsea’s deficiencies in other areas, Mourinho’s initial transfer focus should not be on Wesley Sneijder. Despite the amount of money that Chelsea are likely to give Mourinho to spend, it could be used more wisely than in bringing in another playmaker – which is the main strength of the current squad.

Is Jose Mourinho the right man to turn Chelsea’s young stars into superstars?

To all intents and purposes Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea has been secured, and there are already questions being asked about the futures of David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres. What’s not being asked so much is what effect the appointment of Mourinho will have on Chelsea’s recent policy of stocking up on young talent. At Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho has been much more comfortable working with experienced players, using their already high levels of talent to make and shape his teams. He doesn’t have a record of promoting young players from the youth departments of these clubs at all. He doesn’t have a good record of loaning players and then playing them when they have been improved. He has pretty much built his success on signing ready-made players.

The reason that this could sit incongruously with Chelsea’s recent transfer policy is that he will be overseeing a young first-team squad that has a fully stocked and successful youth squad and an assortment of potentially world-class players out on loan around the world. They have building towards the next couple of seasons for the last three years or so, they have a plan. Despite the circus of managerial changes at first-team level, behind the scenes the player recruitment and development policy has been exemplary. They have been preparing for this season and even more so 2014/15 when the likes of Lukaku, Chalobah, McEachran, Courtois and De Bruyne will be nicely polished up ready for action. Not to mention how good the already sublime Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will be by then and the continued improvements of Cesar Azpilicueta that could make him the starter for Spain at the World Cup.

So where does Jose Mourinho fit in to this policy? Is he really willing to give youth a chance? Can he make them better players than they are at the moment? When you hire Jose Mourinho you agree to buy him players. That’s what happened first time around, and that’s the rumour this time around. He doesn’t rate Torres or Ba, so the talk is of them trying to sign Edinson Cavani or Karim Benzema. They are both readymade, plug and play options. But how about Romelu Lukaku. He has the potential to be one the best in the world given his physical gifts, youth and proven output. If they spend £40-50m on a striker they are not signing him to sit on the bench behind Lukaku. Mourinho will certainly prefer the known package Petr Cech over Thibaut Courtois, who could also turn in to the best in his position.

Jose Mourinho

In his last stint at Chelsea no academy players made the breakthrough to first team level. Inter Milan’s top homegrown starlet, Mario Balotelli, was clashed with and sold on, as were a ream of other young Italians who are now starting around Serie A. Mourinho won the Champions League with a team that averaged over 30 years old. Three years later they finished ninth, having been hamstrung by a squad that got too old all at once. At Real Madrid the likes of Canales, Callejon and Morata showed a lot of promise but were not often utilised. The only young player who got significant game time was Rafael Varane but he broke in due to injury to Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe.

The other cross against Mourinho’s name is his supposed weakness in developing young first team players, taking them on to the next level. This criticism isn’t as fair as that he doesn’t blood young players but there is some credence to it. When he first arrived at Chelsea he improved the likes of Lampard, Terry, Cech and Robben plenty but since then his record is more erratic. Jon Obi-Mikel levelled out as did Salomon Kalou. At Real Mesut Ozil, Marcelo and Higuain haven’t really improved from the level they were at when he arrived. Is it something that he has lost his touch with? As he has become more entrenched in his ways he has found less time to develop players. This is a big concern with Mata, Hazard, Ramires and Azpilicueta. Will he be able to take them on to be amongst the best players in the world?

Mourinho will get Chelsea winning games and probably trophies but he has never played players from his youth teams and has recently struggled to improve players as individuals. He has improved the team concepts and winning mentality of Inter and Real but has left them with problems to deal with long term. Can he use Chelsea’s wealth of young resources this time around?

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Chelsea’s returning starlets will form the nucleus of an exceptional team

With all the hysteria surrounding Chelsea this season it is easy to forget that they have the core of a young and potentially devastating team. Along with the likes of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta, who are already in the first team, they own some of Europe’s top young prospects who are thriving out on loan in various leagues.

So let’s take a look at the best of these starlets who will be coming home in the summer and what their future at the club could look like.

Thibaut Courtois

The Belgian goalkeeper is currently starring for Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and is one of the best goalkeeping prospect in the world. In his two seasons in Spain he has played 84 games, keeping 41 clean sheets, which is an incredibly high ratio. He is an unbelievable shot stopper and has total control of his box and defence.

Thibaut Courtois

I would personally argue that he is already better than Petr Cech and is only going to keep improving if he is given the opportunity to play more first-team football. There have been rumblings that he may just stay out in Spain for a couple more years but he is ready for Premier League action right away. Chelsea have leaked a lot of silly goals this year and Cech is not what he was a few years ago. In two years Courtois could well be considered the best in the world.

Romelu Lukaku

The Belgian striker is having a big season in the Premier League for West Brom. He has already scored 13 goals despite Steve Clarke’s bizarrely infrequent use of him. He is scoring at a rate of a goal every 106 minutes in a team where he isn’t surrounded by the likes of Hazard and Mata creating chances for him. Incredibly to look at him, he’s only 19. The comparison to Didier Drogba is not just because he plays for Chelsea but because he does play like Drogba when he first arrived in England.

Romelu Lukaku

His combination of pace and strength is ridiculous and his finishing is calm and composed. Look at his goal at Anfield where Daniel Agger bounced off him before he calmly slotted home. Chelsea have been criticised for loaning him out but it was the right decision. How much would a 19-year-old scoring in the Premier League at near enough a goal a game cost to buy? Something astronomical. But Chelsea will have him ready to lead the line for next year. He’ll be better than Demba Ba once settled in, and I won’t bother comparing him to Fernando Torres.

Kevin de Bruyne

The third Belgian, but probably the least known. However, he could well turn out to be the best of the bunch. The 21-year-old attacking midfielder combines express pace with trickery and goals. Think Hazard and you won’t go far wrong.

Kevin De Bruyne

In the Bundesliga at Werder Bremen this year he already has eight goals and six assists in a team where he is always going to be the main focus for opposition defences. Imagine the damage he could cause with Mata and Hazard distracting defences. He will be ready to play for the first team next year.

Nathaniel Chalobah

An Englishman for a change, 18-year- old deep-lying passer Chalobah is having an outstanding season in the Championship with Watford. With an almost frightening calmness on the ball and supreme balance and elegance, Chalobah glides around the midfield a bit like a Paul Scholes or Mousa Dembele, and has the full range of passing to match.

Nathaniel Chalobah

He has also started to pop up with more goals recently to add to his armoury. He isn’t quite ready for the Chelsea first team, but a year on loan in the Premier League would do the trick. Gianfranco Zola says he is the future of Chelsea’s midfield.

There are also the likes of defender Jeffrey Bruma and midfielders Josh McEachran and Lucas Piazon, who should all have a future in the first team picture with another season or two of football. Not forgetting Ryan Bertrand who seems to be being readied to take over at left back from Ashley Cole.

In a couple of years time they could have this; Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Bruma, Bertrand; Oscar, Chalobah; Hazard, Mata, de Bruyne; Lukaku.

The future is potentially very bright for Chelsea but it depends entirely on how they manage the situation. They need to have patience and faith in these youngsters and give them the opportunity they deserve. This would be best done by investing in and believing in a manager who has experience with such a project.

The ideal man to get would be Jurgen Klopp but a Michael Laudrup or even Jupp Heynckes would be good choices. If they do things properly and add a few other players elsewhere, then they could build a team to play the beautiful winning football that Roman Abramovich dreams of.

Shinji Kagawa and a glimpse of things to come for Manchester United fans

When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United for an initial fee of £12million in the summer, many football observers were calling it a masterstroke.

After all, this was the player who ended his last season at Borussia Dortmund with 17 goals, 10 assists and both a Bundesliga and German Cup winner’s medal.

His partnership with Robert Lewandowski had helped turn Dortmund into the top team in German football, while his ball-control, vision and goal-scoring ability pointed to a 23-year-old who was exactly the kind of playmaker United were crying out for.

Fans frustrated at losing out on Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura could calm themselves in the knowledge that a quieter but no less impressive player was heading their way. And yet this season, the Japanese midfielder-cum-forward has shown only flickers of his undoubted ability.

Shinji Kagawa

That was until Saturday, when his hat-trick against Norwich City ended any doubts that he was cut out for the Premier League, or suited to any position besides that of a second striker.

While his first goal could be argued as a lucky one, his positioning was key, as was the confidence to take it on the outside of his right foot. But it was his second and third that should excite United fans the most.

The nonchalant side-foot finish for his second was that of a player whose thoughts are somehow quicker than the game he is caught up in. While his third saw his first touch dissect the Norwich defence and his second touch delicately chip the onrushing ‘keeper.

After each goal he celebrated only with a smile, as if he was used to it, or at least had been, and he was simply relieved it was happening once more.

One game does not make a player. Just ask Andrei Arshavin. But on Saturday, Kagawa showed what he is capable of. And the fans who have seen glimpses of his passing ability and ball-retention over the last six months, have now seen what he can do when he is fit and a little more used to his surroundings.

Ultimately, his best performances may come at Old Trafford, when opponents tire and the attacking intent of his teammates leads to holes for him to exploit. And certainly away against the top sides both domestically and in Europe his ability to keep the ball may prove more important than where he can put it. But for fans crying out for a creative, goal-scoring midfielder, Saturday may have seen him stake his first claim for the job.

The rumours continue that Kagawa’s former teammate Lewandowksi will be joining him at Old Trafford next season. Whether they need him is another matter. But with or without him, Kagawa has found his feet.

They are very special feet indeed. And by next season, they could have the beating of most.

Chelsea’s capture of Hazard a serious statement of intent

Highly-rated Lille attacking midfielder Eden Hazard has revealed that he is ready to join Chelsea next season, despite interest from both Manchester United and Manchester City. The Belgium international has been a leading light for the Ligue 1 outfit over the last 24 months, and will move to Stamford Bridge in a 32 million deal once the transfer window reopens. It had looked for all money that Hazard would end up at one of the Manchester clubs next season, however as the Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium outfits toiled in their pursuit, Chelsea acted swiftly to assure the playmaker’s signature.
 
Roman Abramovich has reportedly dealt with the transfer personally, stepping in to orchestrate the deal in the absence of a full-time manager. Both Manchester clubs, especially United, will be rueing their lack of urgency in trying to complete a deal for the starlet, and Hazard’s move to Chelsea will act as a warning that next term will not be the two-horse race for the title that 2011-12 became.
 
Chelsea may well have won the Champions League this term, but the Blues have come under criticism for their negative style of play and lack of attacking intent. This is being remedied in the transfer market, with Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Marko Marin all on board for next term. All three players will challenge for a first-team spot, and give the side options of attacking midfielders that can change a game. Hazard’s arrival will make Chelsea a different proposal next term, as their traditionally direct approach could well be given some panache by the skill and creativity of the Belgian alongside Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge.
 
Next on the Blues’ hitlist is a new big-name striker to complete their attacking overhaul, replace Didier Drogba and compete with Fernando Torres for a starting berth. Hulk is been linked with a 30 million move, and would provide the strength in depth necessary for Chelsea to challenge next term. If the Porto man’s acquisition is not sealed a raft of other big-money pretenders have also been earmarked, including Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani.
 
Hazard’s capture shows Chelsea’s intent to get back into title contention, and the Belgian superstar will not be the last new face to join the Stamford Bridge club this summer. The final jigsaw piece for Chelsea to really get back into the mix is a new permanent manager, with Roberto Di Matteo’s heroics in delivering a Champions League and FA Cup double seemingly not enough to get him the position on a full-time basis.
 
The fact that Di Matteo has not already been confirmed as the club’s full-time manager is bewildering given the Italian trainer’s rejuvenation of the side since replacing Andre Villas-Boas. Abramovich is obviously biding his time to get a bigger and more experienced name into the Stamford Bridge hotseat, however who exactly this will be is yet to be seen.
 
One has to wonder however what will get the next Chelsea manager more than one season in charge and satisfy Abramovich’s ambition; Di Matteo has won the Champions League and is not being given a second term. With Hazard’s signing and the continued expenditure on the playing squad, the expectations on the next Chelsea manager will be monumental. The next Blues boss may well have quite the squad at his disposal, but the weight of expectancy attached to the role means there is very little room for error in as competitive a Premier League as there has been in some time.

Published – Soccerlens

Manchester United vs Manchester City, Arsenal vs Tottenham and the transfer battles for Europe’s best this summer

After going head-to-head in the 2011-12 Premier League season, the nation;s top five clubs are ready to do battle off the pitch and in the transfer market this summer. Here are the top five transfer wrangles expected between the Premier League big boys.

Eden Hazard – Manchester United vs Manchester City

Ligue 1 Player of Year Eden Hazard has been all over the media this week after announcing that a move to one of the Manchester clubs was on the cards; there is no doubt that the two fierce local rivals will be desperately fighting over the highly-rated 21 year-old in the coming days.

A dramatic last-day finish meant that noisy neighbours Manchester City were crowned 2011-2012 Premier League champions and considering their quest for world domination, many believe the Belgian starlet will favour a move to Roberto Mancini’s men. However, the young winger could find it hard securing a consistent first-team spot, with David Silva and Samir Nasri already occupying attacking midfielder positions. United however will look to the starlet to reinvigorate an ageing midfield if he moves to Old Trafford.

Shinji Kagawa – Manchester United vs Arsenal

The Japanese winger has been a key part of Jurgen Klopp’s Bundesliga-winning side, getting 13 goals and 11 assists for the German champions this season. With interest from Manchester United and Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund will find it hard to keep their 23-year-old star-man, who is out of contract next summer.

Kagawa has already admitted his willingness to move to England, with a commercial value attached to the Asian superstar for his next side also. United are frontrunners for his signature, however Arsenal are also keen and have a recent track record of buying players from Dortmund.

Edinson Cavani – Chelsea vs Manchester City

Uruguay international Edinson Cavani has had a fantastic season for Napoli, impressing both domestically and in the Champions League, where he found the back of the net against both Manchester City and Chelsea. Both Premier League giants are interested in bringing the South American hitman to England, although City seem to be focussing more on capturing Robin Van Persie as their new attacker. The homegrown pair will be joined in the race by Serie A champions Juventus.

With the supposed exit of Ivorian veteran Didier Drogba, Cavani could be the perfect replacement, and having already shown ability in Europe, he could be exactly what Chelsea need if City purchase elsewhere.

Jan Vertonghen – Arsenal vs Tottenham

Another example of Ajax’s outstanding and prolific youth system, centre-half Jan Vertonghen is currently being fought over by north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham.

Although rumoured to have already agreed personal terms, the White Hart Lane outfit could miss out on the 25 year-old defender due to the Eredivisie champions’ inflated asking price.

It is obvious that Harry Redknapp is intent on strengthening the defence, and the Belgian centre-back would be a perfect addition to the squad. However countryman Thomas Vermaelen is eager to tempt his international comrade to the Emirates, and Arsenal are still in the hunt.

Robin Van Persie – Arsenal vs Manchester City

2011-2012 Premier League top goalscorer Robin Van Persie has attracted serious interest from newly-crowned champions Manchester City, after scoring 30 league goals and winning the PFA Player of the Year award.

With one year left on his current deal, keeping the Netherlands international at Arsenal will be at the top of Arsene Wenger’s priority list this summer. However, with a natural desire to win trophies at the biggest clubs in the world, Van Persie may be inclined to make a move north to join former team-mates Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri.

Currently undergoing contract talks, the coming weeks will be vital in seeing what the future holds for the Arsenal hero. Money may also be a key issue; Arsenal are willing to shatter their wage structure and offer £130,00 per week, whilst City are thought to be eager to almost double this at £250,000 per week.

By Jacob Tucker

In For Eden? Hazard potentially the man to reinvigorate Manchester United’s midfield

Belgian star on United radar as Ferguson’s midfield comes under further scrutiny in wake of derby defeat

Monday night saw Manchester United lose the Premiership title initiative to big-spending noisy neighbours City and consequently opened fresh debate on the need for investment at the heart of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.

The Old Trafford supremo stuck to his guns last summer, opting not to sign a midfielder as he waited for the right player to become available. Fergie entrusted his current charges and the decision seemed to be vindicated as United clawed their way to the league summit with the evergreen Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick on good form in the early part of 2012. Due to Darren Fletcher’s continued absence, Paul Scholes even made a shock return from retirement and has boosted the champions with a series of assured performances.

The narrow derby loss however, saw the trio along with Park Ji-Sung, overrun by the power in the engine room of rivals City, with Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry particularly impressive. Even though the title race is far from over, the manner of the defeat has left Sir Alex under fresh pressure to bolster the champions’ options in the middle of the park.

Across the channel meanwhile Lille star Eden Hazard continues to impress. The Belgian, regarded as one of the hottest properties in Europe, now has 17 goals and 19 assists in Ligue 1 this term.

The Red Devils manager went to watch the 21-year-old when Lille met Lyon back in March and clearly was impressed.

“He is a very good player who has many qualities.” – Sir Alex Ferguson after travelling to France to watch Eden Hazard.

Despite his impressive statistics this season, the fact that Hazard is playing in the French league rather than the Premiership or La Liga could indicate a need to prove himself at a higher level. Ferguson is sure to have noticed though, that unlike his United side in recent weeks, the Belgian playmaker is displaying consistency. He was instrumental in keeping the Lille title challenge alive, netting a penalty away to rivals Paris Saint-Germain and also playing a key role in the winning goal with a superb rabona style cross. Hazard also notched another assist as Rudy Garcia’s men won 1-0 at Nice in their most recent fixture.

Ferguson will surely have alternative options in mind and only he knows for sure who his top targets will be, as United continue to be linked with creative players around Europe. One certainty though, is that if the Scot does identify Hazard as his priority he will pursue the transfer with shrewd efficiency. He has an impressive record of getting his man and can be expected to act early in the window, as he did last year.

There will of course be competition for the Belgian’s signature, should Lille be willing to let him go. Due to Arsene Wenger’s preference for young slick players from Ligue 1, Hazard has continually been linked with a switch to the Emirates. Harry Redknapp is known to be another fan of the player. Competition could also come from within France in the form of big-spending PSG, Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, and possibly Manchester City and Chelsea too.

Hazard is rumoured to have indicated a desire to move to the Premier League and after being watched by Ferguson in March is quoted as being ‘flattered by the compliment coming from the top manager in world football.’ If United opt to move for the Lille man, Sir Alex will need the full financial backing of United’s American owners – it is believed the French club have a minimum release fee clause in the 21-year-old’s contract of €40 million.

By Francis Johnston

%d bloggers like this: