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Man United might have to take transfer gamble in January to achieve their targets

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Last week’s batch of Covid-enforced postponements has given the Premier League a skewwhiff feel.

If the old adage was never to look at the table until 10 games had been played, then there’s a feeling that even glancing at it now will only tell us half a story given the disparity between the workload of teams.

The danger with that approach is that while time might not be of the essence just yet, the clock is certainly ticking on the 2021/22 season. The title race looks set fair and for now Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have all played 18 games, but below them, it’s becoming a muddle.

That trio would leave one position left for next season’s Champions League places but of the four contenders at the moment, none of Arsenal, West Ham, Manchester United or Tottenham have played the same number of fixtures. Michael Masi would find it impossible to work out who is in pole position of that quartet.

That might be why there’s no sense of panic amongst any of the contenders, but it’s certainly United who have the most to lose. This was supposed to be a four-horse race for the title but United had clattered too many fences by October. They’ve had to re-align their targets since then.

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The interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick has eased the tension at Old Trafford after some disastrous displays under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but fourth place doesn’t look like a cast-iron guarantee for United, even if it’s badly needed for financial and footballing reasons. Imagine telling Cristiano Ronaldo that what could be his final season in Europe’s elite will be played out in the Europa League.

United have two games in hand on Arsenal, who currently occupy fourth, and are five points behind them. They also beat the Gunners at Old Trafford recently and those two postponements, away at Brentford and at home to Brighton, would be worth six points if they went to the pools panel. Unfortunately, United will still have to take care of business on the pitch further into the season.

Arsenal were a laughing stock at the start of the season and they continue to lose almost every significant game they play, but Mikel Arteta’s side are now making short work of the rest of the league and they have a youthful squad growing in confidence. They are a danger to United.

And if there was some hubristic cheer at seeing Liverpool’s challenge falter in North London on Sunday, it would have been met with agonised faces at the potential resurgence of Tottenham under Antonio Conte. Spurs have three games in hand compared to United’s two and are only one point further back.

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If they get their act together under Conte – who has a track record of improving teams quickly – and Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min take a shine to the Italian’s 3-5-2, a system which usually benefits his twin forwards, then they could become dangerous in the second half of the season, especially now they’re out of Europe.

Then there’s West Ham, the outsiders of the top four but a team that consistently refuse to go away. If we were to presume all teams were to win their games in hand – a dangerous assumption, it must be said – then there would be four points separating those four teams.

So while United might think the managerial change will propel them forward once again, they can’t take that outcome for granted. Rangnick’s brace of 1-0 wins against Crystal Palace and Norwich City have shown glimpses of promise but also signs of old failings proving hard to eradicate. There is much work to be done.

Any analysis of the second half of the Premier League season is also impossible to do without a nod towards Covid, but beyond accepting it’s probably going to have an impact there’s not much more that can be said. Some teams might be forced to play with severely weakened sides, others might benefit from postponements. All that can be done is to stack the odds in your favour.

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Maybe the January transfer window provides that opportunity. It’s likely to be another quiet mid-season window in the Premier League – aside from Newcastle – but United will sign a holding midfielder if they can. It’s the one area of the squad that was neglected in the summer when upgrades were clearly needed.

Getting the right man in January won’t be easy, but United might need to be aggressive with their approach if it’s an area that Rangnick has earmarked for improvement.

He likes Fred and Scott McTominay but if United are to compete at the highest level domestically and in Europe they need a stronger midfield, while there are also limited options behind them.

So while United might find some natural improvement under Rangnick in the second half of last season, they should also spend to manufacture some marginal gains.

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Barcelona youngster in line to bench Jordi Alba for Real Sociedad clash – report

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As Barcelona drew 0-0 against Rayo Vallecano for the season opener, Jordi Alba was among the five to be substituted off to make way for offensive depth. The Spaniard is usually among the brightest offensive outlets in the team, but failed to make an impact last week.

Alba also looked out of his depth during pre-season, and it was reported that people within Barcelona were surprised that he started over Alejandro Balde.

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The 18-year-old was impressive during the run-up to the league opener, and was expected to take Alba’s place in the lineup.

While that did not happen vs Rayo, Javi Miguel reports that he is in line to start against Real Sociedad as the left-back. Xavi has informed Balde about his decision, and has told him to train with high intensity leading up to the game.

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Balde has been linked with an exit from Barcelona, especially given Marcos Alonso’s imminent arrival. However, an impressive performance at Anoeta could open the doors for his continuity.

The Chelsea defender has reportedly completed his move to Barcelona, subject to registrations and signatures. The club plan to announce it in the coming days if they are able to register Jules Kounde in time for the game.

Balde played in every single one of Barça’s pre-season fixtures, even registering an assist — to Raphinha —, against Inter Miami.

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Barcelona fans will hope the gamble pays dues, especially because it will likely not go down well with Alba, who is one of the team captains

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Barcelona yet to receive any offers for exit-bound right back, price tag sits at €20m

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Barcelona are said to be pushing Sergino Dest towards an exit, but a recent report from journalist Adria Albets has confirmed that the player does not have any offer at the moment.

Regardless of what has been said in the past, neither have Manchester United tabled any formal offer for the right-back, nor have they made contacts with the 21-year-old’s representative.

For the moment, Barcelona are clear pretty clear about offloading Dest but in order to fulfil the operation, they are demanding in excess of €20 million.

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For that particular reason, his agents are finding it hard to find a suitor as no club is willing to match the valuation for a player who is already fallen down the pecking order.

Xavi has so far preferred to use make-shift centre-back, Ronald Araujo, as a full-back. And while the Uruguayan has done well at times, it’s pretty clear that the team is looking to bring in a full-time right-back this summer.

For that, several players such as Hector Bellerin, Juan Foyth, Diogo Dalot, Thomas Meunier and Jeremie Frimpong have been considered, but there remain several complications in carrying out the operation

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To begin with, Villarreal’s valuation of €42 million for Juan Foyth is proving to be a hindrance.

Barcelona are finding themselves in this situation mostly because their attempt to sign a certain Cesar Azpilicueta failed.

Meanwhile, as far as Dest is concerned, he knows in order to get regular minutes, he needs to move away from Camp Nou, but Barcelona’s asking price of €20 million is putting a stop to his desire.

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Manchester United were thought to be weighing up a fresh move worth €20 million for the defender, but the Premier League side is yet to make any formal move. Hence, the Dutch-born American defender continues to train within the Barcelona ranks for the time being.

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Report: Chelsea prepared to listen to offers for their ‘huge talent’, will demand nearly £60m

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Report: Chelsea prepared to listen to offers for their ‘huge talent’, will demand nearly £60m

Chelsea would reportedly prefer to sell Christian Pulisic rather than loan him out this summer.

According to The Sun, Manchester United are interested in signing the 23-year-old Blues attacker on loan

is understood that Chelsea would rather offload the American on a permanent basis, though.

The report says they’ll listen to offers for Pulisic during the next couple of weeks, but want to recuperate the full £58million they paid for him a few years ago.

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With Chelsea demanding nearly £60million for the forward, will any club step forward with a bid?

Chelsea prefer to sell Pulisic

It makes little sense doing Man United a favour by sending them Pulisic on loan, so you can fully understand why a permanent transfer would make much more sense.

Described as a “huge talent” earlier this year by Gary Neville, Pulisic is a player that frustrates supporters at Stamford Bridge.

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The winger can produce moments of brilliance in the final third, but there’s no major consistency in his game.

He finished last season with eight goals and five assists in 38 matches across all competitions, which wasn’t a bad return considering he missed a couple of months with an ankle problem

However, the United States international can’t seem to become a real favourite under Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel.

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His 2019/20 campaign is proof of what a talented player he can be.

The forward had 21 direct goal contributions in 34 Blues appearances, but it was a familiar case of injuries interrupting him whenever he builds up some momentum.

It would be quite a surprise if a clubs willing to fork out a near-£60million sum for him.

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