Soccer

Thierry Henry as the next Arsenal manager?

Is Thierry Henry ready to be the new Arsenal manager? "I don't know and nobody knows," the former Arsenal striker said when asked about the prospect. On the face of it, it seems we won't find out any time soon. Even if Arsene Wenger does leave after this season, the club is unlikely to take a chance on a former player with no head coaching experience.

Yet the prospect of seeing Henry take over remains a tantalizing one for many fans who would love to see their hero return to the Emirates in a prominent role. So should the idea of Henry as the manager be dismissed out of hand? Perhaps not. Here's a look at the pros and cons of putting Arsenal's all-time leading scorer in the dugout.


Pros

1. He's an Arsenal man

What better way to ensure that Wenger's legacy lives on than to pick one of his former players as his successor? Henry, who left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007 after eight years in North London, knows the club inside and out and has been schooled in the philosophies and values which Wenger has spent the last 20 years ingraining in both players and staff. If Arsenal is worried that a new manager would come in and tear up the script completely, Henry would guarantee a sense of continuity. And his love for the crest can never be questioned.

2. Instant respect from players

Henry's status as a legend at the club — he scored a record 228 goals in 377 appearances — would make sure he gets instant respect from the squad despite his lack of coaching credentials. People tend to listen to someone who already has a statue outside the stadium. And the 39-year-old's age could serve as an advantage, as some worry that the 67-year-old Wenger no longer has the same connection with players as the younger generation of managers like Pep Guardiola (46), Antonio Conte (47) and Jurgen Klopp (49). Henry has lived the life of a modern-day footballer, meaning the current generation can relate to him easily.

3. Fan support

This might be the biggest benefit of hiring Henry: he would unite a divided fan base. The former France international is one of the best-loved players in the club's history, and supporters would probably grant him a longer honeymoon period than a more experienced manager would get. With Wenger causing an ever-increasing split among supporters, the club could certainly use the feel-good factor that Henry would bring.

Cons

1. Lack of experience

This list could end here. Henry has never been in the manager's hot seat, and that's the main reason it would be shocking to see Arsenal offer him the top job at this stage. Helping coach the under-18s and serving as an assistant to a national team is a far cry from handling the every-day pressures of managing a top club. Arsenal needs a proven world-class manager to replace Wenger, not someone who will learn on the job.

2. Tactical awareness

Being a top player doesn't necessarily translate into being a top manager. And those players who do become top-level coaches tend to be either former defenders or midfielders – not strikers. Henry was a genius when it came to finding open space and ways to finish, but does he know what tactical change to make when things aren't going as planned? Arsenal needs a manager who can improve their defensive stability and toughness, not their attacking flair.

3. Too outspoken?

Henry has become a very popular TV pundit in part because he is not afraid to speak his mind — even if that means criticizing Arsenal's players or Wenger himself. Would he be able to rein in his tongue if he had to answer tough questions at news conferences before and after every game? The media loves outspoken managers — they're a rarity these days — but sometimes it's better for the club to stay silent and keep things internally. Wenger is a master at that, no matter how much criticism he faces, but would Henry be as disciplined?

Don’t waste Marcus Rashford’s time with England U21s, he needs rest

Marcus Rashford had just three weeks' holiday last summer, a mini-break squeezed in between England's Euro 2016 elimination at the hands of Iceland on June 27 and his return to training at Manchester United the day before Jose Mourinho's squad flew to China for their preseason tour on July 19.

If England manager Gareth Southgate and the Football Association have their way, the 19-year-old will have even less downtime this summer due to their determination to have the United forward in the squad for the European Under-21 Championship in Poland in June.

Rashford, who won his eighth senior cap as a substitute during England's 2-0 victory against Lithuania in World Cup qualifying on Sunday, has been diplomatic about the looming club vs. country row which will surround him.

"It is up to the coaching staff and managers to decide if I go," Rashford said at the weekend. "But if I do go, I'll be approaching it with the same attitude as I do to the seniors. It is exciting. Getting tournament experience is massive."

Whether "tournament experience" gained during a two-week long campaign in Poland will be of any use to a player who saw the positives and negatives of performing in a major tournament firsthand during Euro 2016, is debatable. But United manager Mourinho has already made clear his position on Rashford's potential involvement with the U21s this summer.

"If he becomes a regular in the A national team and established, then to say it is important for his development with the U21s, makes no sense," he said back in October. "If he's a U21 player in the national team, then he is an U21 player and there is no discussion about that."

Yet with the tournament just over two months away, Rashford has made precisely one appearance for the U21s — when he scored a hat trick against Norway last September — and has played in five of the six senior games since Southgate stepped in to replace Sam Allardyce as manager in the autumn.

On the one occasion under Southgate that Rashford did not play, he was an unused substitute during the 3-0 victory against Scotland in November.

So, in terms of where Rashford stands on the international stage, nobody could accuse Mourinho of exaggeration if he suggested that the player is an established member of the England senior squad. Rashford and the U21s have been like ships passing in the night — and the striker is now some distance away.

Yet despite the weight of evidence which points to Rashford having progressed beyond the U21s, Southgate and the FA are ready to allow Boothroyd to select him in his squad for Poland.

Having traditionally overlooked young players who have established themselves at senior level, England are now keen to travel to U21 tournaments with the best players available to them, whether they have made it into the senior team or not.

Harry Kane, then 21, was named in then-manager Southgate's squad for the U21 Championship in the Czech Republic in 2015, but the Tottenham forward had won just two senior caps by that stage and, unlike Rashford, had been a regular at U21 level, playing in six qualifiers and both legs of the playoff for the finals before being selected.

Kane was a U21 knocking on the door of the seniors, so his inclusion could not be contested, despite the fact that he ended the 2014-15 campaign having played 56 games for club and country — a huge workload for such a young player.

Whether Kane's involvement at in the Czech Republic in the summer of 2015 had a knock-on effect the following summer, when he appeared drained of energy during a hugely disappointing Euro 2016, is up for debate, but there is a danger that Rashford could risk the same issues if he goes to Poland.

He has already made 38 appearances for United this season, five for England and one for the U21s. He is almost certain to break the 50-game barrier and could play on until May 24 for his club if United make it to the Europa League final.

Then there will be internationals, for either the seniors of U21s, before departing for a tournament which runs until the final in Krakow on June 30. And then 15 days later, United begin their preseason tour of the United States with a friendly against LA Galaxy in California.

Sir Alex Ferguson often claimed that the summer was the most crucial time in the development of young players because the four to six weeks without football "enables them to grow, physically and mentally." They need to rest their bodies and switch off from the demands of the game, but Rashford risks being denied that.

If the decision is made in Rashford's best interests, he will not be selected; if it is made in the interests of the FA and the U21 team, Rashford will go.

Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse, who were both selected by Southgate for the seniors during the recent international break, will go to Poland, but both have been regulars in the U21s and neither are established at senior level. Would it really make sense for Rashford to learn the ropes in the U21s when his rivals for a place in the senior squad are the likes of Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, and Andros Townsend?

With a World Cup to prepare for in Russia next year, the sensible option would be for Rashford to be given a break this summer and the chance to head into next season without any fear of burnout or mental fatigue.

Nobody will care, or remember, if Rashford leads England to success in Poland but then plays a part in another dismal World Cup next year. The bigger picture should focus on his development and the real prizes, rather than drag him along to a junior tournament which he has already outgrown.

Mkhitaryan can continue to be a difference maker this season

Henrikh Mkhitaryan played a starring role as Armenia's captain vs. Kazakhstan on Sunday, scoring the first goal — extending his national record to 20 — in a 2-0 win. The chances of Armenia reaching a first-ever World Cup finals appear slight but they are just one point outside a playoff place at the halfway stage of qualifying. 

Mkhitaryan is his nation's greatest-ever player, having won the first of his 62 caps as a 17-year-old over a decade ago. Without him, Armenia lost their first three World Cup qualifiers. With him, they've won their last two and the Russian speaker would dearly love to play in that country next year while he's at his peak. Armenia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, only played their first international in 1992.

Mkhitaryan flew from Yerevan to Manchester after Sunday's game and will go straight into training with United. It will likely be the last week before the end of the season when the club doesn't have a midweek match.

The midfielder has not started a Premier League game since the home win against Watford on the Feb. 11 and has only been in the United line-up for 10 of 27 league games overall, but that stat belies his importance and influence, which will be key in April when United play nine matches.

The first is on Saturday at Old Trafford against 8th-placed West Brom and, with Marouane Fellaini missing Belgium's Tuesday friendly vs. Russia with a toe injury, Paul Pogba having pulled his hamstring two weeks ago, Ander Herrera suspended and Bastian Schweinsteiger departed for Chivago Fire, United could have a shortage of midfielders for the game.

At least Michael Carrick is fit. I spoke recently about Mkhitaryan to the 35-year-old, who will have a testimonial at Old Trafford on June 4.

"The first time I saw [Mkhitaryan] was on the first day of preseason when I thought ‘he’s going to be a proper player,'” said Carrick. “I said that within minutes to [Ashley Young]. Sometimes you see it in players; sometimes you don't. Sometimes you see it all the time. He can use both feet, he turns, he's direct and quick. I thought 'he's got the potential to be whatever he wants to be.' He can turn off both feet; he's clever with the positions that he takes up. I like the way he plays the game."

Carrick adds that Mkhitaryan is always looking to "get behind" opponents: "You play against some players who are talented but don't really hurt you. They might have all the talent in the world but they're not that hard to play against because they don't really test you. Henrikh does and he's not easy to play against because he wants to get into the holes, the pockets, where he twists and turns and goes forwards."

Mkhitaryan prefers a central attacking midfield role, even if Mourinho uses him mostly on the right. He wasn't in the squad when United won 2-0 at West Brom in December, a game the home side's players felt they were never truly in as United dominated and scored two exceptional team goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Backed by the support of one of the best away followings of the season, who enjoyed the early evening kickoff, United played 4-3-3 against Tony Pulis' side with Pogba, Carrick and Herrera behind Ibrahimovic, Jesse Lingard and Wayne Rooney.

That victory was one of the most impressive of the season and, as the fourth in succession, also came at a time when the mood among fans was peaking. In all, United won nine straight in December and January and played the best football of the campaign so far. Pogba was excellent and the run also coincided with Mkhitaryan starting consistently.

The 28-year-old added class, creativity and spectacular goals and helped draws become wins. The run ended in January with an Old Trafford draw against a Liverpool side already wobbling; points dropped at home have been one of the unfortunate stories this season for Mourinho's side.

There is a chance to right that next week when West Brom's visit is followed four days by that of Everton, currently seventh. Cup commitments mean United have only played two league games since Feb. 11 but the Reds need points if they're to finish in the top four, especially with away games to follow at Burnley, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Spurs.

Mkhitaryan, who has been rested by Mourinho when he feels fatigued, can play a huge part in the games to come. He has no international games until June and has started just 20 games in all competitions for United. Pogba, by contrast, has made 40 starts so far.

The pair were two of four 2016 summer signings by Mourinho and all have impressed so far, more so than the previous year's intake. Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Memphis Depay have already left the club, while Matteo Darmian is a bit-part player. Only Anthony Martial has been a consistent starter over the last two seasons.

Mkhitaryan has played well since a tough start when Mourinho toughened him up. Meanwhile, Pogba is having things tough right now after his performance levels dipped after Christmas, Eric Bailly would be helped by playing in a more stable defense and Ibrahimovic will be judged by his immense goalscoring record. He has 26 so far.

Mkhitaryan has scored a creditable seven so far himself, having netted 23 last season in 52 games for Borussia Dortmund. It's time for him to finish this season as one of United's best players

MLS Roundup: Niko Hansen’s late goal lifts Crew over Timbers

A round-up of Saturday's MLS action: 

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Niko Hansen scored in his MLS debut, Ola Kamara got a goal in his third consecutive game and the Columbus Crew beat the Portland Timbers 3-2 on Saturday night.

Hansen, the ninth pick in the 2017 SuperDraft, came on in the 60th minute for Justin Meram and gave Columbus (2-1-1) a 3-2 lead with his first goal in the 84th minute. Kamara, charging to the top of the 6-yard box, played a perfect cross by Harrison Afful from the right wing. Jake Gleeson made a diving stop, but Hansen put away the rebound.

Dairon Asprilla put the Timbers (3-1-0) in front in the opening minutes. Kamara's header off a corner kick by Federico Higuain was deflected and Meram tapped it in from point-blank range before Kamara made it 2-1 in the 19th. Higuain dropped an arcing pass from beyond midfield to the left corner of the box, where Kamara chipped a half-volley over Gleeson and into the far corner of the net.

Portland's Fanendo Adi made it 2-2 during first-half stoppage time, his 45th career regular season goa. That tied John Bain for most in franchise history.

The Timbers are 1-12-6 in their last 19 road games.

 

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Juan Agudelo scored twice, Lee Nguyen and Chris Tierney each had a goal and an assist and the New England Revolution beat Minnesota United 5-2 on Saturday.

Agudelo, just inside the 6-yard box, headed home a perfect cross by Tierney in the fourth minute and, after Collen Warner tied it from well outside the area about 10 minutes later, Kei Kamara gave New England (1-2-0) the lead for good in the 21st. Diego Fagundez, from near midfield, threaded a pass to Nguyen at the left corner of the box, who beat a defended at the 6-yard box and centered to Kamara for the tap-in.

Nguyen scored on a penalty kick in the 31st minute to tie Steve Ralston for second on the Revolution's career goals list with 42 and Agudelo's second goal made it 4-1 at the break.

Brent Kallman pulled Minnesota (0-3-1) within two early in the second half, before a penalty kick by Tierney capped the scoring in the 53rd minute.

Minnesota United, an expansion team, has 18 goals allowed this season and is on pace to allow 153 this season. Chivas USA allowed an MLS single-season 67 goals in 2005 and 2013.

 

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) — Matt VanOekel posted a shutout in his first MLS start and short-handed Real Salt Lake played the New York Red Bulls to a 0-0 draw on Saturday.

The 6-foot-4 VanOekel — starting in place of Nick Rimando, who is off on international duty — made all three of his saves in the second half. Fredrik Gulbrandsen weaved through four defenders into a clearing in the center of the box but VanOekel made the one-handed stop, diving to his right to poke it away in the 63rd minute. Then, in the 79th, he denied Bradley Wright-Phillips from close range before making another diving save in injury time, turning away Alex Muyl's shot from the top of the box.

New York's Luis Robles had four saves for his second clean sheet of the season. The Red Bulls (2-2-1), who were without Sacha Kljestan, Derrick Etienne Jr. and Michael Murillo (international duty with the United States, Haiti, and Panama, respectively), have 10 shutouts during their 16-game home unbeaten streak.

It was RSL's first match under interim head coach Daryl Shore. Shore replaced Jeff Cassar, was dismissed on Monday. Real Salt Lake was also without Albert Rusnak (international duty with Slovakia) and Kyle Beckerman, who received two yellow cards in its game with the Los Angeles Galaxy on March 18.

Man United’s most memorable Premier League wins

Manchester United's 3-1 win over Middlesbrough on Sunday was United's 600th victory in Premier League games, making them the first club to reach that mark. Here are 10 of their best wins in this so-called modern era…

10. 3-0 vs. Aston Villa, 2013

There may have been more impressive performances and victories in United's Premier League time, but Alex Ferguson's last title was primarily inspired by — you could even say won by — Robin van Persie. And in this game, Van Persie scored a hat trick to beat Villa and clinch that title. His second goal was a perfect example of the volleying art you will see, as he let a long ball drop over his shoulder and fired it brilliantly into the corner of the net.

"All the great goals we've scored over the years, from David Beckham through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Eric Cantona … that goal has joined that," said Ferguson. This was the game that summed up United's last title win, too, and it was carried brilliantly by Van Persie.

9. 2-1 vs. Liverpool, 2015

Many of the classic United wins over Liverpool have come in various cup competitions, and perhaps their best games in the Premier League have been draws. But this encounter carries a little extra satisfaction for United, as it punctured a Liverpool revival while they were trying to make sense of life after the departure of Luis Suarez.

Brendan Rodgers had guided Liverpool to a 13-match unbeaten run after losing at Old Trafford, but he was tactically outsmarted by Louis van Gaal as a couple of Juan Mata goals secured a 2-1 win. It was made all the more amusing for United by Steven Gerrard's red card, issued just 38 seconds after he came on at half-time.

8. 9-0 vs. Ipswich, 1995

The Premier League's record win, which ultimately wasn't enough for United to beat Blackburn to the title, could have been inspired by revenge. Earlier that season, Ipswich — who would eventually finish stone bottom of the table — had beaten United 3-2, and in the view of some fans, they'd celebrated with just a little bit too much glee. United certainly exacted vengeance and then some as Andy Cole scored five goals and United blew their lowly opponents away.

A few years later, Cole and Ipswich keeper Craig Forrest ran into each other on holiday, where Cole was introduced to Forrest's wife as "the man who made my life a misery."

7. 5-3 vs. Tottenham, 2001

"Lads, it's Tottenham." As team talks go, this one from Ferguson was pithy, but you couldn't argue with it. Under Ferguson in the Premier League, Spurs beat United only four times, and it's a slight surprise the number is that high. This game, at the start of the 2001-02 season, was a perfect example of the hold United had over Spurs.

But at half-time Tottenham were ahead 3-0, with a debut goal for Dean Richards and strikes by Les Ferdinand and Christian Ziege seemingly putting the game beyond doubt. Then United viciously stormed back to level things 25 minutes into the second half before Juan Sebastian Veron, and then Beckham sealed the win. "A great game? I can't take much comfort from that," said Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle afterward.

6. 8-2 vs. Arsenal, 2011

In the wider scheme of things, this game wasn't actually that significant for United. It was early in a season in which they didn't win the league, pipped at the last by Manchester City. It didn't even boost United's goal difference enough to make that dramatic, Sergio Aguero-fuelled finale even more dramatic. But still, this was an assertion of United's dominance over Arsenal, a humiliation that probably meant more to Arsene Wenger's side (in a negative context) than to United.

The goal scorers, for the record, were Wayne Rooney with three and Ashley Young with two, while Danny Welbeck, Nani and Park Ji-sung got one each. So bad was it for Arsenal that Ferguson admitted he wanted his team to stop scoring and end the humiliation.

5. 3-2 vs. Manchester City, 1993

In their pomp, Ferguson's United team would win games by force of will as if there was absolutely no question of their doing anything other than taking three points from whatever helpless whelps were in their way. Often, before things changed, those helpless whelps were Manchester City, and despite City going ahead 2-0 in this game in November 1993 through a Niall Quinn brace, there was still an inevitability about United's comeback. Eric Cantona got a couple before Roy Keane rammed home a late winner to take the points.

4. 2-1 vs. Tottenham, 1999

Among all the extraordinary events that comprise United's treble-winning season, it's often forgotten that they came perilously close to not winning the Premier League title. Top since January, they dropped eight points in the run-in, and after 24 minutes of the final game of the season, they were behind 1-0 due to a Les Ferdinand goal.

At that stage, Arsenal was heading for the title despite drawing with Aston Villa, but Beckham curled in an equalizer just before half-time. Andy Cole, on as a substitute for his old mate Teddy Sheringham, then lobbed in what would turn out to be the winner. Ten days later they had won the FA Cup and Champions League, completing the most implausible and glorious treble.

3. 3-2 vs. Aston Villa, 2009

These days Federico Macheda, only 25, is plying his trade for Novara in Serie B. But back in 2009, a glorious future beckoned after he made the most dramatic of debuts for United as they chased the Premier League title with Liverpool. With 10 minutes remaining, United was down 2-1 to Aston Villa at Old Trafford, and thanks to Liverpool's win over Fulham the previous day, United were heading for trouble in the title race. Then Cristiano Ronaldo equalized before substitute Macheda spun on the edge of the area and curled a perfect shot into the top corner. That would prove crucial even if Macheda's career hasn't quite panned out as well since.

2. 1-0 vs. Newcastle, 1996

Newcastle was already very nervous by the time United visited in March 1996. A little over a month earlier, Kevin Keegan's side had commanded a 12-point lead at the top of the table, but by the time the United game came around, the lead had been whittled down to four. United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel had what, for most any other keeper, would have been the game of his life — but in his case it was relatively routine, notably keeping Les Ferdinand out on a few occasions.

Then arrived Eric Cantona: You could include any number of the wins he inspired in the run-in to that season on this list, but ultimately, his goal in this game was the one that broke Newcastle's will and gave United the title.

1. 2-1 vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 1993

Steve Bruce scored 19 goals in the 1990-91 season. He managed only five a couple of years later, but two of those were arguably the most important in United's recent history. Having thrown the title away to Leeds the previous year, there was a danger that United was going to do the same, with Aston Villa looming in the rearview mirror.

A run of four games without a win for United put Villa top of the table, and after John Sheridan's penalty kick had put Sheffield Wednesday ahead in this game at Old Trafford, another defeat looked likely. Then Bruce headed Denis Irwin's corner home after 85 minutes, and in the 96th, he arrived at the end of a deflected Gary Pallister cross to secure the three points. In the end, Villa collapsed and United won the title by 10 points, but this was undoubtedly the turning point.

City charged with failing to control players: FA

London – Manchester City faces a charge of failing to control their players by the Football Association for their surrounding the referee Michael Oliver when he awarded a penalty in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Sunday.

Oliver, the same referee who was surrounded by Manchester United players in the fractious FA Cup quarter-final with Chelsea last week and resulted in the club being fined £20,000, awarded a penalty to Liverpool when he judged Gael Clichy to have fouled Roberto Firmino in the 50th minute.

"It is alleged that in or around the 50th minute of the fixture, the club failed to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion," said an FA statement.

James Milner tucked away the penalty to give the visitors the lead but Sergio Aguero leveled with just over 20 minutes remaining to ensure City salvaged a point in the gripping match at Etihad Stadium.

Real Madrid set for €80m Mbappe bid; Barca eye Flamengo striker Vinicius Jr.

TOP STORY: Madrid set for €80m Mbappe bid

Zinedine Zidane is pushing for Real Madrid to sign Kylian Mbappe from Monaco after Los Blancos missed out on signing the exciting forward three years ago, with talk of a €80 million deal being arranged, according to AS.

The Spanish daily reckons that Mbappe, 18, who has just earned his first call-up to the France national team, was recommended to Real by Zidane in 2014 and even visited the Valdebebas training center and met Cristiano Ronaldo before signing for Monaco instead.

Mbappe has made a massive impression this season, scoring 10 goals in 21 Ligue 1 appearances and finding the back of the net home and away against Manchester City in the Champions League, leading to the reigning European champions setting their sights on signing him.

Barca eye Flamengo forward Vinicius

Staying in La Liga, Barcelona has enlisted the services of Andre Cury to help them land Flamengo forward Vinicius Junior ahead of Real Madrid, according to Marca

The report claims that Cury is the man who convinced Neymar to move to Barca in 2013 and, as such, the Catalan club have great faith in his ability to convince 16-year-old Vinicius to follow suit.

It is said Flamengo want to tie the player, who has a €30m release clause, to a longer contract and a larger buy-out fee in light of interest from Barca and Real. Although it could come down to who is willing to cut the biggest cheque, the Blaugrana hope that having Cury involved will give them the edge.

Son in Sevilla, Inter's sights

Sevilla and Inter Milan will offer Tottenham forward Son Heung-Min the opportunity to play regular football this summer, the London Evening Standard reports

Son has scored 14 goals for Spurs in all competitions this season, but he has played second fiddle to Harry Kane in central attack or been deployed on the flanks. The Standard reckons that uncertainty around his place in Mauricio Pochettino's XI will encourage other European sides to make a move for the 24-year-old South Korea international.

Barca back off Bellerin

Next up, some rare good news for Arsenal fans in troubled times: Barcelona are leaning towards a summer move for Valencia right-back Joao CanceloMarca claims, with Hector Bellerin considered too expensive.

Cancelo, with a reported release clause of €30m, represents far better value for Barca than the potential €50-60m transfer fee that Bellerin could command. In addition, it is said that there are doubts about bringing the Arsenal man back to the club where he began his youth career and the Premier League side are keen to keep a player they consider a future captain.

Barcelona want Thiago back from Bayern; Chelsea plan busy summer

Barca want Thiago back

Barcelona is interested in bringing Thiago Alcantara back to the Camp Nou from Bayern Munich, in case a move for Paris Saint-Germain's Marco Verratti fails to materialize.

Mundo Deportivo reports that Thiago is seen as an alternative option to Verratti, with the French side unwilling to sell to Barca due to ill feeling following their shocking Champions League round of 16 loss.

Barcelona sporting director Robert Fernandez watched Thiago in action against Arsenal recently and was said to have been impressed at how the player has developed in Bavaria. However, Bayern is aware of Barca's interest and are already working on a contract extension to Thiago's current deal, which runs until 2019, while also provisionally plotting a move for Bayer Leverkusen's Julian Brandt.

Chelsea planning busy summer

Chelsea has been impressive this season in their march toward a potential Premier League and FA Cup double, but the addition of Champions League football next season is bound to complicate things.

As such, the London Evening Standard reckons Antonio Conte is planning for the arrival of four players at Stamford Bridge this summer with a striker, central defender, full-back and central midfielder being targeted.

It is claimed the sales of Oscar, John Obi Mikel, Patrick Bamford and Branislav Ivanovic has created room on the wage bill for new faces to arrive, while the Nike sponsorship deal which begins next season will also generate extra revenue.

Pep has big changes planned

Pep Guardiola is not happy. And to show his dissatisfaction, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach is planning a huge summer overhaul with as many as 18 players facing an uncertain future at Manchester City, according to the Guardian.

In addition, Guardiola has £150 million to spend and is lining up transfer targets, with Benfica goalkeeper Ederson, Tottenham duo Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, Athletic Bilbao defender Aymeric Laporte and Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez among the names he is said to be keen on.

Seven players — Yaya Toure, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Willy Caballero, Jesus Navas, Bacary Sagna and Tosin Adarabioyo — are out of contract and may not be offered new terms, while a further five — Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala, Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and Jason Denayer — are on loan and also under threat.

Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, Aleksandar Kolarov, Fabian Delph, Fernando and Kelechi Iheanacho complete the lengthy list of players whom Guardiola could look to move on.

Tap-ins

– The head of Real Madrid's international scouting department, Juni Calafat, was in attendance at Stamford Bridge on Monday as Chelsea beat Manchester United in the FA Cup quarterfinals. Calafat was in England to watch goalkeepers David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois, and Marca claims when someone as senior as that takes in the game it means plans are at an advanced stage.

– Arsenal and Tottenham could go head-to-head in the race to sign Eibar defender Florian Lejeune, the Daily Mirror reports. The 25-year-old has impressed in La Liga this season with Eibar in the mix for European qualification or at least a top-half finish. Having joined from Manchester City last summer, the Frenchman is said to have a £8.7 million release clause that has caught the North London duo's eye.

– Meanwhile, across London, John Terry will not be offered a new Chelsea contract when his current deal expires at the end of the season. The Evening Standard claims that the veteran defender could stay at the club as a coach or as an ambassador, but there is also interest from the Chinese Super League and Major League Soccer.

Ramos gets Real out of jail

Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos performed another rescue act to wreck Napoli's brave comeback attempt and take the Champions League title-holders into the quarterfinals on Tuesday after they had taken a first-half battering.

Napoli, trailing 3-1 from the first leg of the round of 16 ties, looked more than capable of overturning the deficit as they dominated the first half and took the lead through Dries Mertens.

But with Real wobbling, Ramos popped up to head an equalizer early in the second half and he produced another header six minutes later which deflected off Mertens and into the net.

Substitute Alvaro Morata added another in stoppage time against deflated opponents to give Real a 3-1 win that sent them into their seventh successive Champions League quarterfinal by a deceptive 6-2 aggregate score.

Backed by a fervent crowd, Napoli made a fast and furious start and peppered the Real goal with shots in the opening 10 minutes.

They repeatedly carved open Real's defense with quick, clever angled passing and superb running off the ball.

One such move produced their opening goal when inspirational captain Marek Hamsik laid a perfectly-weighted first-time pass into the path of Mertens who lost his marker and placed his shot wide of Keylor Navas.

Real, fielding the same line-up that started last year's final which they won on penalties against Atletico Madrid, were being totally outplayed, although they nearly snatched an equalizer against the run of play.

Karim Benzema's pass sent Cristiano Ronaldo sprinting between the Napoli defenders and past Pepe Reina but the Portuguese forward fired his shot against the foot of the post.

Napoli also hit the woodwork with a shot on the turn by Mertens after Allan's pass was deflected into his path.

The hosts failed to begin the second half with the same intensity, however, and quickly paid the price after Hamsik uncharacteristically gave the ball away in midfield.

The move ended with Real winning a corner which Toni Kroos delivered perfectly for Ramos to rise above the Napoli defense and head the ball into silence the crowd in the 51st minute.

Six minutes later, Ramos struck again from another corner, although this time the ball took a deflection of Mertens and UEFA awarded an own goal against the Belgian.

Faced with a hopeless task, Napoli completely lost their momentum and Real coasted through the rest of the game, Morata snapping up a rebound for the third goal.

Ancelotti ‘confident’ over Bayern’s UCL chances after defeat of Arsenal

The German champions trailed at half-time to Theo Walcott's goal in the 20th minute, but the game turned after the dismissal of Arsenal captain Koscielny for a foul on Robert Lewandowski in the penalty area and Bayern's top goalscorer converted the resultant spot kick.

"It was a difficult game until we scored the penalty," Ancelotti said. "We had problems in covering positions well. Defensively we were too open and Arsenal pushed us hard as we expected. We should have had better control and our use of the ball was not as good."

In similar fashion to the first leg, when the French defender had to leave the pitch through the injury, Arsene Wenger's side wilted as Bayern romped to the same scoreline as in Munich last month.

Further goals from Arjen Robben, Douglas Costa and a brace from Arturo Vidal, wrapped up a resounding 10-2 aggregate success over the hapless Gunners.

But according to Ancelotti, Bayern found it tricky coming to terms with their mammoth advantage from the first leg in Munich.

He said: "It is difficult to stay focussed when you are 5-1 up. We spoke about this before the game, but sub-consciously, you know you are 5-1 up and it's difficult."

Asked about his side's chances of winning the top prize in European club football, Ancelotti said: "We are really competitive. But in the Champions League, little details decide games.

"Today we were suffering, then a penalty, sending off and the game was finished. It's really difficult to know what will happen in the future, but we are confident and competitive."

Ancelotti could allow himself the luxury of leaving Thomas Muller on the bench for 90 minutes as an unused substitute.

"I have only 11 players to play," Ancelotti said when asked about the omission. "But he is very important for us and will help us the next game."