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The transfer that created a clique

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“Who is Diego?” During United’s comfortable 3-0 win at Sunderland in April 2017, then-manager Jose Mourinho turned to Michael Carrick, perched behind him on the bench, to enquire about the song emanating from the Stadium of Light’s away section.

“He came from Uruguay, he made the Scousers cry!” continued the terrace anthem.

When United’s then-no.16 explained that the song was in reference to former Red striker Diego Forlan, Mourinho chuckled to himself. The Portuguese’s reaction was standard for the uninitiated.

The headlines of Forlan’s time at United don’t stand out as spectacular: two-and-a-half seasons, 98 appearances, 17 goals, one Premier League title and one Community Shield.

On the face of it, a Reds striker mustering less goals than Chris Smalling and fewer appearances than Neil Webb would appear unremarkable, but the essence of Diego Forlan’s United tale runs far deeper.

As the 2001/02 campaign progressed, Sir Alex Ferguson had cause to consider his attacking stable.

Teddy Sheringham had rejoined Tottenham before the season, while Ruud van Nistelrooy had arrived from PSV Eindhoven and was steadily establishing himself as a masterful piece of business.

The simultaneous arrival of Juan Sebastian Veron had posed more questions than answers, as Ferguson shuffled his team around in order to accommodate the Argentinian playmaker while also keeping his established quartet of Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and David Beckham in the team.

This often meant a switch to a 4-4-1-1 formation, with van Nistelrooy invariably the spearhead, limiting opportunities for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.

While Solskjaer retained the same patience that had been a feature of his previous five campaigns at the club, Cole left in December 2001 to join Blackburn Rovers, with Yorke, who was struggling to sustain his finest form, following him to Ewood Park seven months later.

Mindful of the need to inject youthful vigour into his attack, Ferguson made a late move to sign a 22-year-old forward who had been tearing up the Argentinian top flight with Independiente.

Forlan had been heavily scouted by Middlesbrough over the course of the previous year, and was set to sign for the Teessiders when United swooped.

Having flown to London from Buenos Aires with a Boro representative, the striker was informed by his agent that Independiente had received a new proposal.

United had offered to pay the transfer fee in one lump sum, rather than the instalments Middlesbrough had agreed, so Forlan had a choice to make.

He cancelled his connection from Gatwick to Newcastle, flew to Manchester instead and quickly agreed a £6.9 million transfer.

“It was a massive blow to the club,” admitted Boro chief executive Keith Lamb, while manager Steve McClaren said: “When we first initiated negotiations with Independiente for the player we did realise that there was an awful lot of competition throughout Europe for his services. Nothing is over until everybody has signed on the dotted line.”

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.

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.

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.

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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Football

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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