Will Mats Hummels join Manchester United in the summer?

Borussia Dortmund & Germany defender Mats Hummels has been linked with a move to the Premier League for the past 12 months. On previous occasions, he would make the effort to deny any chance of a transfer happening to any of the clubs mentioned – Arsenal & Manchester United. However, the 26-year-old has changed his stance, and recently said: “If I was to transfer abroad at some stage, then it would only be to Manchester United.”

With the German Bundesliga side set to lose out on a Champions League place this season, a deal could be in the offing in the summer. Reports have suggested Hummels previously promised the Premier League giants he would eventually join them, but he’s refuted such claims. United manager Louis van Gaal spent time managing in the German Bundesliga in the past, and knows all about Hummels as a defender. He’s hoping to bring him on board as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo aren’t of the world class ilk as World Cup winner Hummels is.

It’s unknown how much he would set United back, but it would be a reasonable figure given Dortmund have no real pulling power if they can’t promise Hummels European football in 2015/16. Jurgen Klopp’s men were rock bottom of the domestic league earlier in the campaign, but have since turned things around. Nevertheless, they still look set to miss out on a top-four place, and a number of their stars could well depart the Westfalonstadion, potentially signalling the end of an era at BVB.

Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke admitted that the defender was torn about his future. He said: “Mats held talks with me and (sporting director) Michael Zorc, and informed us that he is mulling over his future. That’s totally legitimate. He is under contract until 2017, and we have not received an offer. That’s why we are completely relaxed.”

Manchester United are closer to signing Hummels than they ever have been, and they have the necessary funds to make the deal go through this summer. The Red Devils are spending big to push for the Premier League title next season, and have identified the Dortmund captain as one of their main transfer targets.

The 26-year-old has always remained loyal to his club and manager, however, and his exit could well see a number of players following him through the exit door. It would signal a major blow to Dortmund’s hopes of mounting any challenge in the Bundesliga next season. Hummels has been a consistent performer in the Dortmund defence, playing his part in their Bundesliga triumphs in 2011 & 2012. He also made the FIFA Dream Team as his country won the 2014 World Cup.

Could Hummels be on his way to Manchester United in the summer?

Real & Atletico Madrid meet again in repeat of Champions League final

“We know it’s a tough game and one that will be against a good team. But we are at home, and we have to know that it’s a must-win match.”

Those were the words of Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of Real Madrid’s La Liga game against local rivals Atletico way back in 2010, and how fitting the two bitter sides will meet again in a massive clash of contrasting styles in the Champions League quarter-finals on April 22. First, though, the two teams meet in the first leg on April 14 at Atletico’s home, the Vicente Calderón Stadium. Real finally ended their 12-year wait for the completion of “La Décima” with a comprehensive victory of Diego Simeone’s men in last season’s Final, but Atletico ultimately pulled their weight by lifting the La Liga title in the same season. This time around, the two sides are doing battle yet again in the last eight, but what a difference a year (or so) can make.

This time, Real are sitting four points behind current league leaders Barcelona after their defeat in the latest chapter of the El Clasico, but they remain five points ahead of the reigning champions – and that will surely give them a psychological edge going into their continental clash. That said, Atletico will be doing their utmost to prove that they still have what it takes at the top, and with the recent return of cult hero Fernando Torres to the mix, on-loan from AC Milan, there is certainly an added dimension of threat to Atletico’s attack.

They won this season’s Group A with a comfortable three point margin ahead of two-time winners Juventus, losing only one of their six group games, but struggled to dispose of Leverkusen in the last 16, having to rely on a penalty victory after overturning a 1-0 deficit from German soil in the return fixture at the Vicente Calderón Stadium. This would imply that form on the European front would certainly seem to favour Real – historically the tournament’s most successful club – though a home defeat to another German side, Schalke, meant that Carlo Ancelotti’s men themselves only managed to scrape through by the skin of their teeth with a 5-4 aggregate win. They did win Group B comfortably, however, claiming a maximum 18 points from six games – two of which included last season’s Premier League runners-up, Liverpool.

Atletico are celebrating the recent news that boss Simeone has signed a new contract to keep him at the club for another five years, but whether this feelgood factor can be translated into performances on the pitch remains to be seen – Atletico are a strong, exciting and stubborn side, but Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be hoping to continue their title defence by getting off to a good start when the two sides meet in Europe’s top club competition.

Will Atletico oust Real from Europe’s elite competition?

Marouane Fellaini enjoying resurgence of form for club and country

Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini scored two goals for Belgium, as the Red Devils comfortably won 5-0 against Cyprus in the Euro 2016 qualifier. The brace against Cyprus and his recent performances for Manchester have capped a much-improved season for the former Everton man. Under new United manager Louis van Gaal, Fellaini has been showcasing the form that led to predecessor David Moyes initially signing him from his former club, and is showing no signs of stopping.

“He can play several positions – a No.6, No.8 or even as a second forward – but he has to play in the centre of the pitch. Marouane was always in my squad list and he played a lot of games. He is a really important player for the Belgian team with a really good mentality. He always gives everything for our team and I have always believed in him,” said Belgium manager Marc Wilmots.

The 27-year-old struggled in his debut season at Old Trafford, failing to inspire fans and teammates alike. He showed little to no signs of quality to vindicate the transfer amount spent to sign him. Fellaini failed to score a league goal throughout the 2013/14 campaign, despite finishing with 11 league goals from 31 Premier League games in 2012/13 under Moyes at Everton.

During his Everton days, his aerial presence, strong physique, and impressive eye for goal were the main features of his playing style which made him standout, yet as a midfield player he often received criticism for a lack of work rate.

Last season, he offered little in the way of protection for his teammates, as Moyes tried to utilise Fellaini as a holding-midfielder alongside Michael Carrick. At Old Trafford, it simply didn’t work, as the Belgian was poor, and looked particularly uncomfortable when receiving the ball in deep areas & attempting to push forward up the pitch.

It’s all changed this season, however, with Fellaini used higher up the pitch to be a real attacking threat. Van Gaal has been bold with the midfielder, and his faith in the talented individual has been paying off. The Dutch coach was full of praise for Fellaini, and believes his form has been key to Manchester United’s successful season.

“Fellaini has qualities that in this moment he can contribute a lot, and that’s why he is playing. He also allows me to give balance to the team and that’s important. That’s important for a manager who is looking for the balance of the team. He’s also a player who can give a solution for beating the opponents when they’re pressing, and that’s also a contribution, but he has more contributions. I think he has to play higher (up the pitch),” he said.

Will Fellaini continue to blossom at Manchester with van Gaal at the helm?

Will summer investment see Southampton finally achieve their dream of Champions League football?

Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr recently injected a £20M loan into the club, with a view to boost transfer funds for a lucrative summer of spending. The South Coast club has seen its aspirations of finishing in a Champions League place fall by the wayside in recent weeks, but the Saints still stand an outside chance of Europa League football.

Last summer saw an exodus at St Mary’s, with the sales of Dejan Lovren, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert seeing the Saints raise over £100M. The money was reinvested in new signings, and chief executive Gareth Rogers has revealed Liebherr’s plans to continue transforming the club.

“(The £20M loan) really demonstrates her commitment to the club to a certain extent. She had decisions to make in the summer. She could have sold the players and cleared her debts in the club but said we had that money to reinvest. She showed commitment by adding an additional £20m to pay for things such as the legacy of the training ground, past transfer fees – all the things you cannot avoid,” he said.

Liebherr’s commitment to the club has been questioned in the past by the supporters, as well as pundits, as many felt she wouldn’t be able to bring the club forward if she weren’t bold enough to invest sufficient funds in the club. Rodgers has stressed her commitment to the cause is never in question.

“She was here at the Christmas party, we fly over to see her regularly to update her, she comes to games. I’m not quite sure what more we can say to convince you. It seems to be an eternal question that wants to be asked because everyone wants a different answer.”

The chief executive also gave an insight into how the Southampton hierarchy have been planning for every eventuality, and would act accordingly depending on their final position. Next season, the aim will be to continue their push for the Champions League, with this season’s Premier League finish set to be higher than the 2013/14 final position of 8th.

“Like any business we scenario-plan – four months ago we sat down and ran through the three different scenarios. Therefore, are we ready for European football? I would say yes. If you look at the infrastructure off the pitch we believe it’s the best in British football.”

So can Southampton bring Champions League football to St Mary’s with lucrative investment in the summer?

Why is Xavi being allowed to move to Qatar?

Various reports are suggesting long-serving Barcelona midfielder Xavi is close to signing for Al Sadd in the summer. Xavi, 35, looks set to end a 24-year association with the Spanish club, but why is he being allowed to move to the Qatari club?

“(Al Sadd) confirms the latest news about the club’s interest in signing the Spanish star Xavi Hernandez is still under negotiation. On the matter, the FC Barcelona player is currently in Doha with his family to know more about the country he would live in if he were to decide to join the club. The club would make further official announcements only if further developments take place,” said a club statement.

Such a deal appears close to taking place, but a player who has been among the best in his position for close to a decade shouldn’t be allowed to leave Europe. There are many clubs who would want Xavi, and he won’t have been without interest from the best sides in the world.

German Bundesliga holders and current leaders Bayern Munich signed 33-year-old Xabi Alonso from Real Madrid – who plays a similar role as Xavi, and manager Pep Guardiola – a former Barcelona player, manager, and teammate of Xavi – would certainly consider renewing acquaintances with such a brilliant club servant. Juventus have managed to get the best form from 35-years-old Andrea Pirlo, so they could be another side interested.

His importance for Barcelona has dwindled, however, and that has led to him losing his place in the side to summer signing Ivan Rakitic. Despite that, Xavi still has plenty to offer a side willing to play to his strengths. Xavi’s CV trumps that of most existing players, but the Catalans are happy to let him go.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu said: “Xavi has earned the right to decide (his) future. He has a contract until the end of the next (season). If he believes he must finish earlier, (he will) have the full support of the board.”

The former Spanish international has reportedly been taking a tour of the club to see their facilities, and Al Sadd are currently second in the table in their domestic league. He’s made 750 appearances for Barcelona, and has helped transform the way football has been played in Spain. Few players will ever match his achievements in football, so Al Sadd are very fortunate to have a player of his quality and fame close to joining the club.

Xavi does turn 36 next January, however, he still has a couple more years of service in his position, yet he has been allowed to join Al Sadd rather than a more presitigious European outfit?

Under-fire Gareth Bale shines on international duty to silence critics

Real Madrid and Wales winger Gareth Bale put in a fantastic individual performance in the Dragons’ Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel, which will give him a much-needed confidence boost following criticism over his domestic form. The 25-year-old scored two goals, and created the third for Chris Coleman’s side to seal a comfortable away win.

The three points put Wales top of Group B, with 11 points from five games. They are unbeaten, and boast the second-best defensive record in the table too, but many tipped them to struggle against Israel. However, Bale was in inspired form at a perfect time to help his side to a surprise result away from home, which also silenced his critics in the process.

This season, the Welsh international has been the subject of criticism following disappointing performances for Real Madrid. He started the campaign strongly, scoring four goals and making three assists in his first seven La Liga games, but has gone off the boil considerably. Bale has netted only two goals in his last 10 games in all competitions, which has seen the Real supporters lose their patience.

But a fantastic showing against Israel has certainly shown his critics just how good he can be. He set up Wales’ opening goal, heading a ball into teammate Aaron Ramsey, who powered his header over the Israeli goalkeeper. He then got on the scoresheet himself with a brilliant free-kick from edge of the area. His second goal and Wales’ third was following a move down the left-hand side, which saw Bale sweep in a cross to wrap up the win.

Bale not only contributed to all three goals, his overall performance was impressive too. He was Wales’ most dangerous player throughout, and was the only one looking to get in behind the defence, as well as looking the most likely to score. It will have been a brief respite from the struggles he’s faced playing for Real Madrid this season, and his post-match interview certainly showed just how much he’s been looking forward to playing for Wales again.

“We knew what a big game it was, it’s a top-of-the-table clash and we don’t often get to say that, and to come out on top is amazing. We’ve put ourselves in a great position. We’re only halfway there, there’s still a lot of games to go and anything can happen. But we’ve put ourselves in a good position and all we can do is keep fighting, keep working hard and hopefully our performances and results can do the talking,” he said.

He’s impressed for his country, but is now hoping to replicate such performances for his club, but can Bale end the season strongly with Real?

Raheem Sterling’s Lithuania performance bodes well for England future

Raheem Sterling’s performance for England in their 4-0 win against Lithuania has gone somewhat unnoticed due to the headlines about debutant goalscorer Harry Kane. The Liverpool winger was outstanding, particularly in the second-half, and his efforts led to him scoring and making an assist.

The 20-year-old showcased his blistering pace and quick feet on many occasions in the last 45th minutes against Lithuania, running rings around the defenders in the final third. His opposition couldn’t handle him, and it was a performance supporters have long been waiting for. The win was impressive, but Danny Welbeck was named man-of-the-match, and a debut goal from Harry Kane also distracted from the Liverpudlian’s performance.

It’s easy to forget how young Sterling is, and how long he’s been in and around the national team, but he continues to be a regular for club and country, and is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s already made 14 caps for the Three Lions, and finally scored his first goal against Lithuania, with a somewhat simple tap-in from close range.

He’s was deadly in the second-half, making 11 dribbles in the whole game, attracting fouls and getting shots on goal away too. Sterling has continued to impress for Liverpool, playing in multiple roles to cover for absentees in key areas, and he’s continued to find the back of the net regardless.

This season, the 20-year-old has scored six goals and has made seven assists in 27 Premier League starts for Liverpool. He’s created 62 chances, while making 83 successful dribbles. Sterling has already surpassed 110 appearances in four seasons for the Merseysiders, and could well provide more than 10+ years of service.

Sterling’s future with Liverpool has been questioned, with Champions League & Copa Del Rey holders Real Madrid linked with a potential summer move for the England international. The Reds are said to have offered a lucrative contract to tempt him to stay in the Premier League, as he’s showing real potential to hit incredible heights in his career. England manager Roy Hodgson has long been a fan of Sterling, and will be delighted with his performance this evening. The winger has been struggling for fitness due to playing in so many games in all competitions for club and country, but he was certainly looking back to his best at Wembley.

His dribbling skills saw him almost score single-handledly on many occasions, and it’s such individual brilliance that England could well benefit from in the big games. Harry Kane may have grabbed the headlines, but Sterling was outstanding this evening, and deserves credit for an incredible showing.

Is Mourinho regretting De Bruyne’s sale with Fabregas’ & Oscar’s slump in form?

With Wolfsburg playmaker Kevin de Bruyne continuing to impress in the German Bundesliga and the Europa League, while Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas and Oscar have been struggling for form as of late, is manager Jose Mourinho regretting the sale of the Belgian star?

Chelsea let Kevin de Bruyne go for £18M, with Mourinho and the 23-year-old having had somewhat of a fallout over the midfielder’s efforts in training. But since his move to Germany, De Bruyne has quickly become one of the best young playmakers in Europe. He has created more chances in the Bundesliga than Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Oscar. The young Belgian has scored and created 25 goals in 26 games.

Considering he’s only 23 years of age, letting him go for £18M seems like an undersell by Chelsea, and De Bruyne has made his feelings clear about his former manager, saying: “”I still don’t know why I lost my place. (Mourinho) has never told me (I didn’t train well), so it was a pity he told a press conference I wasn’t doing well on the training pitch. After the conference I trained harder, even on my days off, but my situation never changed. That’s why I asked him ‘please let me go’,” he said.

Fabregas and Oscar have been providing creativity from the central part of the field, but have gone quiet in the second-half to the season. The Spanish international in particular has struggled in recent weeks and has only provided two assists in his last 11 games, while Oscar has failed to score or create a goal in any of his previous 11 in all competitions. De Bruyne, in contrast, is in fine form, and continues to go from strength to strength for Wolfsburg. He’s also impressed in Europe, scoring five goals and giving five assists in the Europa League this season.

Kevin de Bruyne wasn’t initially signed by Mourinho at Chelsea, but he’s sure to regret letting him go for so little, considering how impressive he has been since joining the German league. He added: “(I left Chelsea) because I lost my joy. Mourinho told me he wasn’t keen to let me go, even on loan, saying: ‘You’re a good player.’ But what could I do more?”

The Belgian’s exit was the result of broken trust, yet it appears Chelsea could certainly do with his creative juices at this crucial point of the season, with the Portuguese manager’s insistence on making little changes to the side seemingly tiring out his squad.

So will the Blues boss go on to regret De Bruyne’s sale?

Andres Iniesta struggling to contribute goals for Barcelona

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has been struggling to make a telling impact in the final third for the last 12 months, with no goal or assist to his name in the Spanish La Liga since this exact day last year. It’s a shock and somewhat of a worry that the Spanish international has been below par in the one area he used to excel, and he recently admitted that his numbers haven’t been good enough.

“My stats haven’t been good this season, far from it, but I’ve never looked at my game purely in terms of statistics. Even so, I’m still happy with what I’ve done even if things sometimes don’t go as planned. I’m my biggest critic so nobody needs to point anything out to me,” he said.

Iniesta was never a prolific scorer, nor was he among the best assisters in the world, but he would rarely give away the ball, and instead helped his side to control the game in the middle of the park. When he did create chances, it often led to a goal due to his high quality of passing, let alone the abilities of the forwards he’s giving the ball to. He previously admitted struggling to perform alongside Xavi in the midfield this season, and it could be one of many factors leading to Iniesta’s demise.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that it seems we can’t play together, but it is always a privilege to be by his side because not only does he make your job easier, but he also makes the team work better. Sometimes, as with all players, things don’t work out. We have been together for a long time now.”

But to have gone a year without scoring or assisting a goal in the division will be hard for him to get over. Iniesta’s strengths are with ball retention, but he always popped up with goals over the course of a season, so it seems odd that this season he’s struggled. Many are suggesting a positional shift is the real reason, with the 30-year-old operating in a deeper role under new manager Luis Enrique, but even Xavi would contribute in front of goal on the odd occasion, and he’s shown less threat to score than Iniesta.

So should the long-serving Barcelona man be worried? Supporters will be arguing that his best days are behind him, with Pep Guardiola’s era at the club getting the utmost best from the 30-year-old. Such days are in the past, however, but how can the midfielder turn his poor form around?

Could we see Sami Khedira in the Premier League next season?

Real Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira recently gave the biggest indication that he will be leaving the Spanish La Liga outfit at the end of his contract this summer, saying: “I love Real Madrid and it will be hard to leave this club. I’m going to give everything for this jersey until the last day of my contract, no one should doubt that.”

The German international, 27, has been on the periphery with Los Blancos, as ongoing injury problems have limited his game time under manager Carlo Ancelotti, and his contract that is up in the summer doesn’t look likely of being renewed in time. He made over 160 appearances for Real Madrid since his 2010 move from Stuttgart, but lost his place in the side over the last 18 months, with strong competition for places keeping him on the bench.

This season, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco have been regulars in the Real midfield, which has meant Khedira has been forced to remain patient when fit. While he set the Spanish club back around £12M, and has since cost them a lot in wages, Real appear more keen to cut their losses on a player who has played just 300 minutes of La Liga football this season, and made only 12 starts domestically in 2013/14. Such inactivity has unsurprisingly seen him fall down the pecking order with the Spaniards.

Despite such injury problems, Khedira does have a lot of interest. Reports have suggested his future has been sealed with a German club, but it’s highly unlikely he would rule out the Premier League, with Arsenal and Chelsea in the frame for the German’s signature. Arsenal, who have three fellow internationals (Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski) are keen on reinforcing the midfield, while Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho managed the 27-year-old during his three years with Real.

After being made to endured extended periods on the sidelines, and subsequently on the substitutes’ bench, Sami Khedira’s biggest aim for next season will be just to play regular first-team football. He may be prepared to take a step down to achieve this. The chance to sign a World Cup winner, Champions League winner, and multiple title-winner for free in the summer will be too good to pass up. When fit, he’s regarded as one of the better box-to-box midfielders in Europe, while boasting a wealth of experience at the highest level.

But will the Premier League get to see Khedira in action?