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Man United might need another two exits to complete midfield reset

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After announcing on Thursday morning that Juan Mata will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of this month, Manchester United have now said goodbye to three senior midfielders in less than 24 hours.

On Wednesday, they confirmed that both Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard will also no longer be registered employees of the club when their current deals reach their conclusions on June 30. The exits of the aforementioned trio have long since been expected, but confirmation of their departures has made it crystal clear that United have got their wheels in motion for their summer rebuild.

United need to make significant changes to the landscape of their first-team squad this summer and the departures of Pogba, Lingard and Mata will be seen as the correct first steps that had to be taken. They had all reached the end of the road as far as their Old Trafford careers were concerned; now United must look to the future.

What is all the more significant about their departures is that they have come from an area of the team that is in most need of essential maintenance this summer. United are crying out for a new defensive-minded midfielder, as well as a box-to-box-type operator. Barcelona ace Frenkie de Jong continues to attract plenty of attention.

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Along with Nemanja Matic’s exit, United have cut their midfield roster from this season by four before the transfer window has even officially opened. Technically, however, they have only reduced it by one, with Andreas Pereira, Donny van de Beek and James Garner returning from loan spells at Flamengo, Everton and Nottingham Forest respectively. Each player’s futures is now under the spotlight and it remains to be seen what manager Erik ten Hag has planned for them.

Many supporters want to see Garner blooded into the first-team fold, believing that he should become a regular starter, while others hope that Ten Hag’s previous Ajax relationship with Van de Beek will see him get the chance to stake another claim. He will be desperate to make his mark next season after a disappointing opening two campaigns in England. Pereira is likely to be moved on, however.

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As well as Van de Beek and Garner looking to force their way into Ten Hag’s plans, the Dutchman also has Scott McTominay, Hannibal Mejbri, Bruno Fernandes and Fred to call upon, who will all be jockeying for the three places in midfield, should he rely on a system that features a midfield trio. The task of keeping all seven of them happy — especially when United want to sign one new midfielder at the very least — already appears an impossible task, and will test the strength of the former Ajax boss’ man-management skills.

Naturally, it is understandable that Ten Hag will want to asses every member of his squad once pre-season training begins on June 27, but decisions will have to be made quickly, so that everyone has a firm understanding of who’ll be involved in his plans moving forward.

United know they need an upgrade on McTominay and Fred at the base of midfield with at least one new signing, but does Ten Hag view Van de Beek as a man for that task, with Fernandes acting as architect-in-chief just ahead of them?

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It is an impossible question to answer at this moment in time, perhaps even for Ten Hag himself. But the fact of the matter is, even though United have already started trimming the squad by offloading Matic, Pogba, Lingard and Mata, they are in danger of remaining bloated in midfield without further departures.

Of the seven aforementioned midfielders that remain on United’s books for now, you would expect Pereira to be the most likely to depart — even though it remains to be seen if he will join Flamengo on a permanent basis. Garner, too, could also leave Old Trafford, albeit on loan again, but Ten Hag might grand plans for him, especially as he is a bit of a whizz when it comes to overseeing the development of exciting, young players.

But with at least one new midfielder expected to check in at Old Trafford, United’s midfield overhaul cannot stop with confirmation of Mata’s exit. They need to keep going, offloading two more at the very least.

Chelsea

Tuchel hands 22-year-old his first Chelsea start – predicted starting XI against Leeds this weekend

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Chelsea will look to get back to winning ways in Sunday’s game against Leeds United at Elland Road.

The Blues dominated proceedings in the London derby against Spurs last week, however only came out of things with a point following Harry Kane’s late equaliser.

Thomas Tuchel operated a fluid and unique system at Stamford Bridge, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Mason Mount especially thriving in the new look system.

However, the Blues could turn back to the recognised back three this weekend, with our predicted lineup for the game against Leeds.

GK and Defence

Edouard Mendy made a brilliant save just before Spurs’ late equaliser at the end, and his position in the squad is more than secure for this one.

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With there still being no breakthrough on the Wesley Fofana front, Cesar Azpilicueta will return to the starting lineup as captain at Elland Road.

Fixtures are yet to pick up in the early stages of the season, so Thiago Silva should still be fresh and okay to participate again.

The centre-backs will be completed by Kalidou Koulibaly, who showed his quality again in an emphatic display against Spurs.

Midfield

Reece James scored almost instantly after being moved back to wing-back on Sunday, and the Blues will look to get the attacking best out of him on Sunday.

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Jorginho may have been at fault for the first conceded goal last week, although his great performance will still see him start again against Leeds.

Injuries have ruled N’golo Kante and likely Mateo Kovacic out of the game, there is a big choice to be made to partner the Italy internatonal. While Ruben Loftus-Cheek starred against Spurs, Conor Gallagher will be chosen to partner in midfield, being handed his first start for the club.

Marc Cucurella will look to build on his impressive performance last week with another start against Leeds, with Ben Chilwell still not quite at match fitness.

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Attack

The Chelsea attack will have a familiar look to the last two weeks, with Mason Mount occupying the free-roaming role in the attack against an opponent he has had a lot of success against before.

Raheem Sterling will try again in his quest to open his Chelsea league account, with him missing a glorious chance last week.

Kai Havertz is another man who missed a great opportunity to win the game for the Blues at the weekend, although his work in the front three was enough to see him start again.

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Atletico Madrid do not want to pay €40 million for Barcelona attacker

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Atletico Madrid are in a precarious situation in regards to their ownership of Antoine Griezmann.

The Spanish giants had signed the Barcelona forward on a two-year loan deal last summer. The contract included a mandatory purchase option worth €40 million if the player features in 50% of the matches with a minimum of 45 minutes between the games across two seasons.

Last season, Griezmann featured in 82.5% of the matches, meaning Atletico Madrid may have to virtually leave him out on the bench throughout the 2022/23 campaign if they are to avoid paying the fee for the Frenchman in 2023.

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However, with Luis Suarez leaving the club, Atletico Madrid consider Griezmann a viable part of the club’s attacking unit and Los Colchoneros must get the best out of him, if they are to regain their lost status in the title race in this new season.

At the same time, the club are not too keen on meeting the mandatory €40 million purchase clause set on Griezmann’s contract. This has been reported by Mundo Deportivo which suggests the club are looking to reduce the overall valuation of the clause.

While Barcelona are yet to respond to Atletico’s overtures, there is a clear indication that the capital club have no intention to pay anywhere near the €40 million for the services of Griezmann, who was barely even a starter for Diego Simeone’s men last season

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The Frenchman was even left out on the bench in Atletico’s opening game against Getafe. However, coming on as a substitute in the final half an hour, the attacker was able to break his scoring duck by netting the third goal in a 3-0 victory.

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It will be interesting to see whether the little cameo compels Simeone to start him in future matches, although his performances should not deter Atletico Madrid from their attempts to lower the price tag of the star striker.

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Chelsea

Barcelona star’s move to Chelsea is now ‘heating up’ – report

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could be close to securing a move to Chelsea from FC Barcelona, with the move now heating up, reports Victor Navarro on COPE.

Aubameyang joined Barça only eight months ago, arriving as a free agent from Arsenal in January. He helped the Catalans finish second in La Liga last season and finished the campaign as the club’s joint top scorer in all competitions along with Memphis Depay

And, Barcelona could now lose both their top scorers this summer. Depay is closing in on a move to Juventus, having reportedly agreed a two-year contract with the Italian giants.

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And now Aubameyang could be on his way to Chelsea imminently, with the move ‘heating up’ recently. The Blues have made the 33-year-old Gabonese striker their top target after losing both Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel enjoyed a successful relationship with Aubameyang during their time at Borussia Dortmund and is now pushing for a reunion.

Reports earlier on Thursday indicated that Chelsea were planning to submit a formal offer for the former Arsenal captain imminently.

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Now, Victor Navarro is claiming that the two clubs are negotiating over the transfer of the 33-year-old, with all parties intent on getting the move over the line.

Barcelona need to get rid of players so that they can register Jules Kounde and make more additions, with a new right-back and left-back on the club’s agenda.

The departure of Depay alone will not be enough to register Kounde. And with Frenkie de Jong unwilling to leave and no offers arriving for Sergino Dest yet, Aubameyang’s exit seems the best option for Barça.

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The ex-Arsenal superstar has fallen down the pecking order at Camp Nou this season following the arrival of Robert Lewandowski. A move to Stamford Bridge could see him become the first-choice striker and enjoy regular game-time.

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