Real reach Super Cup final with Saudi Clasico win

Real Madrid booked their ticket to the Spanish Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia courtesy of a 3-2 extra-time win over Barcelona – their fifth straight, and 100th El Clasico victory.

Real got off to the perfect start in the 248th meeting between Spain’s two most decorated clubs when Vinicius Junior rounded off a counter and rifled in his 15th goal of the season past Marc-Andre ter Stegen (25), but Barca ended a one-sided first half level when Eder Militao’s clearance cannoned in off the unsuspecting Luuk de Jong (42).

Karim Benzema looked to have sent Madrid through to the final when the 23rd goal of his stellar season restored their lead (72), but back came Barca for a second time as Ansu Fati’s glancing header (83) forced extra-time.

Substitute Federico Valverde restored Madrid’s lead for a third time eight minutes into the first period of extra-time, and there was no way back for Barca as their spirited resistance came up short and Real claimed a landmark 100th El Clasico victory over their eternal rivals.

Player ratings

Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Alves (6), Araujo (6), Pique (6), Alba (6), F. De Jong (5), Busquets (7), Gavi (7), Dembele (7), L. de Jong (7), Torres (5).

Subs: Pedri (7), Depay (5), Fati (7), Nico (6), Jutgla (5), Abde (6).

Real Madrid: Courtois (6), Carvajal (6), Militao (5), Nacho (6), Mendy (6), Modric (6), Casemiro (6), Kroos (6), Asensio (6), Benzema (7), Vinicius (8).

Subs: Valverde (7), Vazquez (5), Rodrygo (5), Camavinga (5).

Man of the Match: Vinicius Junior.

Real overcome spirited Barca in Saudi Clasico

Thirty-two thousands fans were socially-distanced inside the half-capacity King Fahd Stadium in the Saudi Arabian capital as the Spanish Super Cup went back on the road again after the coronavirus pandemic transferred last season’s edition back to Spain, and the expectant crowd were treated to a vintage El Clasico.

Team news

  • Ferran Torres made his Barcelona debut and Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araujo returned as Barcelona made three changes from Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Granada.
  • Dani Carvajal and Nacho returned as Real Madrid made two changes from Saturday’s 4-1 LaLiga victory over Valencia.

After spurning a host of chances on the counter to break the deadlock, Madrid finally made an attack count midway through the first period, and in clinical fashion, as Benzema dispossessed Sergio Busquets on halfway and released Vinicius down the left channel, where he raced clear of Ronald Araujo and powered a shot in at the near post.

Vinicius Junior put Real Madrid ahead
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Vinicius Junior put Real Madrid ahead

Barca rallied, creating two heading opportunities as Luuk de Jong forced saves from Thibaut Courtois in quick succession, before the Dutchman levelled the contest in freakish circumstances when Militao’s defensive clearance cannoned off him at point-blank range.

Barca carried that momentum into the second half, creating a raft of further chances which half-time substitute Pedri and the lively Ousmane Dembele were unable to convert, and their profligacy came back to haunt them 18 minutes from time when Benzema, three minutes after striking the post, poked home Dani Carvajal’s centre.

That looked to have sealed Madrid’s passage to the final but Barca forced extra-time with eight minutes to spare when Fati was left isolated by more questionable defending in the six-yard box and glanced home Jordi Alba’s wicked cross.

Ansu fati
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Ansu Fati’s late header forced extra-time in Riyadh

With the scores locked the game went to extra-time where, having fought back twice in regular time, Barca were undone for the third and final time.

With opposition players committed in attack, Real exploited acres of space on the break. Rodrygo squared a pass inside where white shirts where queuing up to convert, and Valverde duly obliged after the ball was allowed to run into his path by Vinicius’ stepover.

Fede Valverde
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Fede Valverde sent Real to the final with his 108th-minute winner

Xavi: We had it in our hands

Barcelona head coach Xavi: “We had it in our hands. We dominated Madrid for most of the game, but we still lack experience, patience and effectiveness. We are close. We cornered Real. It is a pity.

“It was a day to be brave and put our complexes behind us. This Barca can compete with anyone,” Xavi said. “We will go home angry and frustrated. We could have won. We took risks and they took advantage of our mistakes.”

Xavi Hernandez and Carlo Ancelotti embrace on the touchline
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Xavi Hernandez and Carlo Ancelotti embrace on the touchline

Ancelotti hails Clasico quality

Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti: “I think it was a match between two great teams. They controlled the possession, but we conceded the first goal due to bad luck. There were no dominant or dominated [team]. We went back on purpose to look for the counter-attack. The three goals that we scored were spectacular.

“It was a big physical effort. But we have held out well to the end. The fresh legs that came out from the bench did well. We are tired but happy.”

What’s next?

Real Madrid will face the winners of Thursday’s semi-final between La Liga champions Atletico Madrid and last season’s Copa del Rey runners-up Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup final in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – kick-off 6.30pm UK time.

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Barcelona 2-3 Real Madrid commentary

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King Fahd Stadium.

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Aston Villa confirm Coutinho loan deal

Aston Villa have confirmed the signing of Philippe Coutinho on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season.

Coutinho completed a medical at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath training ground on Tuesday and received a work permit.

The deal to bring him to Villa Park also includes an option to make the deal permanent for £33m in the summer.

Sky Sports News has been told Villa are paying less than 50 per cent of Coutinho’s weekly wage plus bonuses.

The Brazilian agreed to take a pay cut to join Villa despite other clubs offering deals that would have seen him earn 100 per cent of his Barca wage.

Coutinho wanted to return to England and play regular football and sees Villa as an ambitious club that are building something special for the future.

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Coutinho’s best Premier League moments

The Brazil midfielder knows manager Steven Gerrard well having spent two-and-a-half years with him at Liverpool, and is said to already know a lot about Villa and their squad.

One source told Sky Sports News Coutinho would have been open to return to Liverpool this month but the Merseyside club were not pursuing a move for him in January.

Coutinho was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, but he struggled to hold down a first-team place at the Nou Camp and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

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Rewind to 2017 when Coutinho named Steven Gerrard in his dream 5-a-side team and rated him as the best midfielder he has ever played with

Villa are also interested in Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma as he enters the final 18 months of his contract but Seagulls boss Graham Potter revealed there has been no contact from other clubs for the Mali midfielder.

Meanwhile, Villa striker Wesley has joined Brazilian side Internacional on loan for the rest of the season.

Analysis: Coutinho could fill Grealish void

Jack Grealish once commented Philippe Coutinho was one of his favourite players to watch on YouTube. “He always has that one, you know, where he goes left and drops like a little shimmy, which is what I like doing myself.” Now the journey has come full circle.

While Grealish perfected his art enough to earn a £100m move to Manchester City, Coutinho returns to the Premier League to replace him at Aston Villa. If the Brazilian can repeat the form that took him from Liverpool to Barcelona it will be an ideal signing.

There are similarities between the two players. Grealish praised Coutinho’s ability to “go past players like they aren’t there” and that is what Villa so loved about their former captain. They have missed having that player who can make things happen this season.

Is the Coutinho idolised by Grealish still there? At 29, there is time to recapture his best form under old team-mate Steven Gerrard, but his career has drifted at Barcelona. If, like Grealish, Coutinho is inspired by being the main man at Villa Park, there is fun to be had.

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Who will be on the move in January?

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Euro round-up: Dortmund reignite title bid, Barca held

Borussia Dortmund fought back from two goals down after a lacklustre start to beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-2 and return some excitement to the Bundesliga title race.

Mahmoud Dahoud’s 89th-minute winner, after Jude Bellingham had equalised in the 86th, moved Dortmund six points behind Bayern Munich a day after the leaders’ 2-1 home defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach.

A fired-up Erling Haaland was a factor in all three goals for Dortmund, who might easily have been four goals down in Frankfurt.

Colombian forward Rafael Borre opened the scoring with a simple finish from Filip Kostic’s free kick in the 15th minute, then doubled the lead 10 minutes later after more lax defending.

Evan Ndicka struck the post for Frankfurt before Dahoud gifted Jesper Lindstrom another huge opportunity with half-time approaching, but the midfielder shot wide.

Haaland and Julian Brandt offered some hope for the visitors with attempts around the hour mark, and Thorgan Hazard pulled a goal back soon after when Haaland sent him through.

The Norwegian was involved before Thomas Meunier set up Jude Bellingham for the equaliser, and again before Dahoud curled in the late winner.

Elsewhere, Freiburg and Bayer Leverkusen dropped points after leading.

Patrik Schick’s 17th goal of the season wasn’t enough for Leverkusen, who were fortunate to emerge with a 2-2 draw against Union Berlin as the visitors twice hit the post late on.

Schick rewarded the home team’s early dominance with the opener five minutes before half-time – his ninth goal in five Bundesliga games.

Patrik Shick is enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career
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Patrik Shick is enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career

However, the visitors levelled before the break. Lukas Hradecky pulled off two fine saves in quick succession to deny Christoph Trimmel then Kevin Behrens, but was powerless to stop Grischa Promel scoring at the third attempt.

Union coach Urs Fischer made two changes at the break and Promel scored again four minutes into the second half. Andreas Luthe thrice denied Leverkusen a response.

Union’s Max Kruse struck the top corner of the post 12 minutes from time, then Jonathan Tah finally levelled in the 84th with a header from Karim Bellarabi’s cross.

Union came closer to a late winner, with Andreas Voglsammer hitting the post, then missed another chance in injury time as Bastian Oczipka struck the upright again.

Freiburg, who spent the league’s winter break in third place, drew against relegation-threatened Arminia Bielefeld 2-2 despite taking a two-goal lead through Janik Haberer and Jeong Woo-yeong.

RB Leipzig overcame a number of coronavirus infections to beat 10-man Mainz 4-1.

Elsewhere, Stuttgart drew against bottom side Greuther Furth 0-0, while Augsburg were beaten 3-1 at Hoffenheim.

La Liga: Granada provide more Barca frustration

Ten-man Barcelona conceded a late goal to draw at Granada 1-1 after Dani Alves set up the opener in his first league match since returning to the club.

The 38-year-old curled in a long ball for Luuk de Jong to steer home a header in the 57th minute.

But Granada poured forward after teenager Gavi Paez was given a second booking with 10 minutes left. Antonio Puertas scored the 89th-minute equaliser with Barcelona hemmed in their own box.

Despite falling to Antonio Puertas' late equaliser, Barcelona's unbeaten La Liga run stretched to five games
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Despite falling to Antonio Puertas’ late equaliser, Barcelona’s unbeaten La Liga run stretched to five games

Alves, who helped Barcelona win 23 trophies from 2008-16, started his second stint on Wednesday as third-tier side Linares were beaten 2-1 in the Copa del Rey.

De Jong’s goal was a second in as many league games for the Dutch striker who has been linked with a possible transfer this month, but failing to win left Barca in sixth place, having missed the chance to climb into third and the Champions League spots.

Barcelona next head to Saudi Arabia to play a Clasico against Real Madrid on Wednesday in the semi-finals of the Spanish Super Cup. Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao play in the other semi.

It took Levante 20 matches to finally register a first win of the season, Roberto Soldado and Jose Morales scoring in a 2-0 win over Mallorca.

The only previous win in any competition for the Valencia-based side came against a lower-division opponent in the Copa del Rey, before they were eliminated in the next round by a third-tier Alcoyano.

Mikel Oyarzabal scored his 12th goal in all competitions to help Real Sociedad beat Celta Vigo 1-0, ending a six-round winless streak and moving the San Sebastian side back to fourth.

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Barca reject salary claims about Pique, Alba, Busquets

Barcelona have rejected an “erroneous” report that revealed the salaries of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Gerard Pique.

Catalan television presenter Lluis Canut said on TV3 Pique is the club’s top earner with yearly earnings of €30m (£25m), while Alba is on €23m (£19m) and Busquets on €20m (£16.7m).

The trio all took wage cuts at the start of the season to help Barca deal with their financial difficulties but Canut claimed these were deferrals and not reductions.

On Friday, Pique published a screenshot of his online banking on social media, appearing to claim that 50 per cent of his annual earnings amount to €2.3m (£1.9m).

Alongside the screenshot, he tweeted: “People like this are paid by public television to defend their friends. Here you have 50% of my salary as of 30 December. Respect yourself a little.”

Sergio Busquets
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Barca said the claims about Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Pique are incorrect

Barcelona condemned the comments from Canut as “improper” and “unprofessional” and said the three players did indeed waive a portion of their salaries before the start of the season.

The club said in a statement: “In relation to the statements made by Mr. Lluís Canut yesterday on the TV3 programme ‘Onze’, FC Barcelona wishes to clarify the following:

“The information on the salaries of certain first team players has not, in any case, been provided by the club and its origin is unknown.

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European football journalist Andy Brassell says Barcelona’s signing of Philippe Coutinho for £146m in January 2018, has been ‘the most disastrous’ in the club’s history

“In any case, the amounts referred to in the information are erroneous, do not correspond to reality and, furthermore, in the case of the first three players referred to, it gives fixed amounts which, being variable, will possibly never be merited.

“It is false that the players mentioned have only deferred 100% of their salary. Mr. Piqué, Mr. Busquets and Mr. Alba waived part of their salary when they signed their last contract renewal last summer.

“We consider it improper, unprofessional and acting in bad faith when this information is offered as true and truthful and regret that information of this type is provided which affects the personal rights of the players and which deserves, when true, the highest confidentiality.”

Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho has gone on loan to Aston Villa for the remainder of the season as Barca look to trim their wage bill.

Ferran Torres has joined Barca for £46.3m but the club are currently unable to register the Spain forward because of their La Liga-imposed spending cap.

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Erling Haaland has been in incredible form for Borussia Dortmund; check out some of his best goals from this season

Erling Haaland getting even better – Barcelona next?

Speculation around Erling Haaland’s future is intensifying with Barcelona now said to be front-runners for his signature but how has the Borussia Dortmund striker been performing this season? And how could Barcelona afford him?

Haaland has been linked with a host of top European clubs in recent years, including Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, but reports in Spain say his agent, Mino Raiola, has informed Barcelona president Joan Laporta of the 21-year-old’s desire to make the Catalan giants his next club.

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Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero provides an update on Barca’s interest in Erling Haaland and explains how the club could afford such a player

Dortmund maintain he is going nowhere in January but even he does stay beyond the end of the month, Raiola has already said publicly there is a “big chance” he will move in the summer, when a £64m release clause in his contract reportedly comes into effect.

With 76 goals in 74 appearances for Dortmund since his move from Red Bull Salzburg in December 2019, it’s little wonder Haaland is in demand.

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Notebook: Prem clubs monitoring Dembele fallout

Ousmane Dembele is considering his options to leave Barcelona after falling out with the club’s board, writes Lyall Thomas.

The France attacker is so far not signing the offer of a new contract with his current deal set to expire in the summer.

He can talk to clubs outside La Liga this month and there are a number of Premier League clubs monitoring his situation.

Dembele and his agent Moussa Sissoko are said to have been disappointed by Barca’s request for him to take a pay cut in his new terms.

They were also unhappy that this request coincided with the signing of Ferran Torres from Manchester City – a player they believe plays in the same position.

Ousmane Dembele
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Ousmane Dembele has fallen out with Barcelona over his proposed new contract

Barca are said to have reassured them that Torres will play more as a No.9. Nevertheless, Dembele and his representatives want a similar deal to Torres.

Reports in Spain also claim Barca are unable to register Torres until Dembele accepts the terms on offer – or leaves.

Barca officials have put the ball firmly in Dembele’s court in recent public comments, urging him to sign the deal.

Sky Sports News has been told that, if he does not, Barca will push for his sale to another club this month.

And if he does not go, they are even prepared to keep him away from the first team until his deal runs out.

The stand-off did not affect his performance on Wednesday night, however. Dembele scored against Linares in the 2-1 Copa del Rey victory.

Blackburn in talks for Hedges, Souttar and Zeefuik

Blackburn are in talks to sign Aberdeen winger Ryan Hedges, write Lyall Thomas, Anthony Joseph and Alan Myers.

His Aberdeen contract expires this summer so he is free to speak to clubs outside Scotland. Aberdeen have tried to keep him but he wants to go back to the Championship.

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 01: Aberdeen's Ryan hedges celebrates making it 1-0 during a Cinch Premiership match between Aberdeen and Livingston at Pittodrie Stadium, on December 01, 2021, in Aberdeen, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
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Aberdeen’s Ryan hedges is a target for Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn had a bid turned down for Hedges at the end of the summer window.

Rovers are also interested in John Souttar at Hearts but face competition from a number of other clubs including Rangers.

Sky Germany are also reporting that Blackburn are close to signing Hertha Berlin’s Deyovaisio Zeefuik on loan. Manager Tony Mowbray has targeted a right back with Ryan Nyambe’s future uncertain.

Cardiff open talks for Dijon’s Panzo

Cardiff have opened talks with Dijon to sign England U21 centre-back Jonathan Panzo, reports Lyall Thomas.

QPR and Stoke are also interested in bringing the former Chelsea academy player back to England. Panzo joined Dijon from Monaco in 2020 and also spent time on loan at Club Brugge.

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The Transfer Show’s Dharmesh Sheth and Kaveh Solhekol round up the latest transfer news from all 20 Premier League clubs.

New York Red Bulls target Celtic’s Soro

New York Red Bulls are one of a number of MLS clubs targeting Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro, according to Anthony Joseph.

The Ivory Coast international has moved down the pecking order under Ange Postecoglou and the Hoops are willing to listen to any loan or permanent offers for the player.

Soro is also attracting interest in Israel but it is believed he would prefer a move to the USA.

It’s understood New York Red Bulls have not made any official approach at this stage and are in no rush. However, they are aiming to sign their transfer targets before the start of the new MLS season next month.

Last season, Red Bulls signed Patryk Klimala and Cameron Harper from Celtic. And former Hoops winger Lewis Morgan is also at the club.

Sky Sports News revealed yesterday that Celtic were looking to offload fringe players to trim the squad, as a matter of priority.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

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Haaland getting even better – Barcelona next?

Speculation around Erling Haaland’s future is intensifying with Barcelona now said to be front-runners for his signature but how has the Borussia Dortmund striker been performing this season? And how could Barcelona afford him?

Haaland has been linked with a host of top European clubs in recent years, including Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, but reports in Spain say his agent, Mino Raiola, has informed Barcelona president Joan Laporta of the 21-year-old’s desire to make the Catalan giants his next club.

Dortmund maintain he is going nowhere in January but even he does stay beyond the end of the month, Raiola has already said publicly there is a “big chance” he will move in the summer, when a £64m release clause in his contract reportedly comes into effect.

With 76 goals in 74 appearances for Dortmund since his move from Red Bull Salzburg in December 2019, it’s little wonder Haaland is in demand. Here, we look at how he’s fared this season – and examine how cash-strapped Barcelona could sign him.

Goals flowing despite interruptions

Dortmund's Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Greuther Furth
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Haaland celebrates a recent goal against Greuther Furth

Haaland has had to contend with injuries this season. A muscular problem caused him to miss three games at the end of September and he was ruled out for a longer period between October and November due to a hip flexor issue.

That hip injury was expected to keep him sidelined for December, too, but instead he returned to action ahead of schedule.

Typically, he marked his first appearance in two months with a goal only seven minutes after his introduction from the bench, helping Borussia Dortmund beat Wolfsburg 3-1 on November 27.

That strike put him into double figures in the Bundesliga this season and there have been five more in five games since, taking his overall goal tally to 19 in just 15 appearances for Dortmund so far.

Haaland is Dortmund’s top scorer as a result, and despite missing a large chunk of the campaign through injury, only Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowksi (19) and Bayer Leverkusen’s Patrik Schick (16) have scored more goals in the Bundesliga this season.

The Norway striker may well overtake that pair if he remains injury-free and continues scoring with the same frequency. Indeed, the 21-year-old is averaging a goal every 69 minutes in the Bundesliga, meaning his strike rate is the best it has been since his arrival at Dortmund from Red Bull Salzburg two seasons ago.

Disappointingly for Dortmund, they lag behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich despite Haaland’s efforts. Marco Rose’s side sit nine points behind their rivals in second place. They would be nine points worse off, though, without Haaland’s goals.

They missed him badly during the Champions League group stage. Haaland was only able to start their first two games, meaning he was unavailable for crucial meetings with Ajax and Sporting Lisbon as Dortmund slumped to a third-placed finish in Group C, causing them to drop into the Europa League.

Haaland must now wait for another crack at the Champions League – be that at Dortmund or somewhere else.

Stats trending upwards

Haaland has scored 13 goals in only 10 Bundesliga appearances this season
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Haaland has scored 13 goals in only 10 Bundesliga appearances this season

The records continue to tumble for Haaland, who, at 21 years and six days old, became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to reach 50 goals in the competition in November. He also reached the landmark in the fewest appearances – only 50.

What’s most impressive, though, is that Haaland, a frightening talent ever since he burst onto the scene at Red Bull Salzburg as a teenager, just keeps getting better.

“He’s much improved compared to last season,” said Dortmund boss Rose earlier this month. “He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”

The improved movement and decision-making can be seen in his increased goal output but it’s the positioning Rose mentioned that best explains how he has reached another level this season.

Put simply, Haaland is spending more time in areas of the pitch in which he can hurt opponents. He is of course capable of inflicting damage from just about anywhere thanks to his extraordinary speed and strength, but it is in the opposition penalty box that he is most deadly.

This season, one of the most notable changes in his game is that he is getting considerably more touches there. His average of 8.7 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes is up from 7.1 per 90 minutes last year and 5.6 per 90 minutes in 2019/20.

His shot volume has gone in the same direction. This season in the Bundesliga, he is averaging 4.5 efforts on goal per 90 minutes, up from 3.5 per 90 minutes last season. His average of 2.2 shots on target per 90 minutes also represents a significant increase.

Haaland is even providing more ammunition for his team-mates. As well as scoring more himself, the stats show he is creating more chances than at any point in his Dortmund career. Significantly, his numbers for expected assists show the chances are of a higher quality too.

All the numbers point to a player finding new ways to improve – and that should be a frightening prospect for those clubs who end up missing out on his signature.

How could Barcelona afford him?

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Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero provides an update on Barca’s interest in Erling Haaland and explains how the club could afford such a player

Barcelona’s interest in Haaland was confirmed to Sky Sports News this week by Spanish football journalist Alvaro Montero, who cited reports from Spain claiming Raiola and Laporta discussed the transfer during a meeting at the Golden Boy gala in Torino, Italy, on December 13.

“In that moment, there was, not an agreement, but Raiola showed Laporta the decision of Haaland to play in FC Barcelona, if FC Barcelona and Laporte has their economic situation resolved and have enough money to pay the player,” Montero said.

Barcelona, however, are over 1.3 billion euros in debt and lost close to 500 million euros last year alone, casting serious doubt on how they could possibly finance the deal – be it this month or in the summer.

They are said to have taken out a substantial loan from Goldman Sachs, allowing them to buy Ferran Torres from Manchester City earlier this month. But staying within the parameters of Financial Fair Play remains problematic.

“It’s very difficult,” added Montero. “They registered Dani Alves after Kun Aguero left but now they’ve got problems to register Ferran Torres because of Financial Fair Play. So, right now, with Erling Haaland, it seems almost impossible.

“Some players must leave. They are thinking about (Philippe) Coutinho [who has subsequently joined Aston Villa on loan], about (Samuel) Umtiti. And others such as Ousmane Dembele could even do a kind of contract renovation which does not count towards this round of Financial Fair Play.

“It’s a difficult economical exercise to understand but if players like Coutinho and Umtiti leave and Dembele renovates, as Xavi has asked publicly, maybe they could afford this, but it’s extremely difficult at the moment with the economical difficulties Barcelona has.”

European football journalist Andy Brassell, meanwhile, points out Barcelona must also factor wages and agent commission into the finances for any deal for Haaland and wonders if a move to Real Madrid may make more sense for the player if he wants immediate success.

“Barcelona will be able to get the money to pay the transfer fee, if we believe that there’s a release clause of around 75 million euros for him to go next summer,” he told Sky Sports News.

“Raiola has been talking to Barcelona – as he has been to a number of clubs. He wants to give his client the best choice possible.

“But I think there are two big problems with this. Firstly, while they may be able to pay the transfer fee, what about the enormous wages that Haaland will be looking for and the huge commission that Mino Raiola will be looking for?

“That’s something that they will also have to meet, which makes it a very expensive deal.

“I think the other thing is the fact that you’ve seen Haaland help Dortmund win the German Cup last season, but when they fall short, he looks so frustrated and finds it hard to keep it in.

“Barcelona, despite all the great young players they’ve got, are not winning everything in the near future and I think Real Madrid seems a look more logical move for him if he wants to win now.”

What’s been said about Haaland this season?

Emre Can has talked up Erling Haaland's Dortmund influence
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Emre Can has talked up Haaland’s Dortmund influence

Borussia Dortmund manager Marco Rose: “Almost every day he is confronted with some outrageous speculation, and the way Erling handles it as a young player is extraordinary, I think. All of us who work with him are used to it by now.

“He’s much improved compared to last season. He has better timing, finds good positions, and he’s making the right decisions.”

Dortmund midfielder Emre Can: “Everybody knows about Erl’s quality. He helps us as a team a lot. I think the team has more confidence when he’s on the pitch.”

Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham: “I stand here every week and tell you how great he is. The only thing more I can say is that the player you see isn’t a fluke. He doesn’t just turn up after a week on the sun bed, and go out and play. He works his socks off every day to be a better striker. And he’s an even better guy than he is a striker.”

Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski: “He’s a great player. He has great potential, but he’s still very young.

“In the future, he has the chance to become the best forward in the world, for sure.

“It’s great to have him in the Bundesliga, to have a young player here to compare [myself] to. I see his face; he has the desire to score goals.

“He is the player who can be the best. It’s not always easy when things are going well. But he has scored a lot of goals already and he’s very young.”

Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk: “Haaland is a special striker, he’s strong, he’s quick. He’s got all the attributes to make a defender’s life very, very difficult.

“The first time was when he was at Salzburg he scored at Anfield. He was very quick, direct. A bit like how Jamie Vardy plays, but Haaland is a bit stronger than Vardy.”

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Coutinho joins Villa on loan until end of season

Philippe Coutinho has joined Aston Villa on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season.

The agreement, which is subject to the player completing a medical and receiving a work permit, also includes an option to buy and Coutinho will travel to Birmingham in the next 48 hours.

Villa are paying less than 50 per cent of Coutinho’s weekly wage, plus bonuses, Sky Sports News has been told, and he even agreed to a pay cut, with other clubs offering deals that would have seen him earn 100 per cent of his Barca wage.

Coutinho wanted to return to England and play regular football and sees Villa as an ambitious club that are building something special for the future.

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Philippe Coutinho’s best Premier League moments

The Brazil midfielder knows manager Steven Gerrard well having spent two-and-a-half years with him at Liverpool, and is said to already know a lot about Villa and their squad.

Villa have an option to buy Coutinho for £33m in the summer.

One source told Sky Sports News there was also a chance Coutinho could have returned to Liverpool this month and that he would have been open to the move.

However, it is understood Liverpool were not pursuing a move for the 29-year-old during the January transfer window.

Coutinho was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, but he has struggled to hold down a first-team place at the Nou Camp and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

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A rewind to 2017 when Philippe Coutinho named Steven Gerrard in his dream 5-a-side team and rated him as the best midfielder he has ever played with

In terms of outgoings, Villa striker Wesley has joined Brazilian side Internacional on loan for the rest of the season.

Gerrard: Coutinho a serial winner

Speaking on Thursday ahead of signing Coutinho, manager Steven Gerrard said:

“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard.

“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.

“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”

Analysis: Coutinho could fill Grealish void

Jack Grealish once commented Philippe Coutinho was one of his favourite players to watch on YouTube. “He always has that one, you know, where he goes left and drops like a little shimmy, which is what I like doing myself.” Now the journey has come full circle.

While Grealish perfected his art enough to earn a £100m move to Manchester City, Coutinho returns to the Premier League to replace him at Aston Villa. If the Brazilian can repeat the form that took him from Liverpool to Barcelona it will be an ideal signing.

There are similarities between the two players. Grealish praised Coutinho’s ability to “go past players like they aren’t there” and that is what Villa so loved about their former captain. They have missed having that player who can make things happen this season.

Is the Coutinho idolised by Grealish still there? At 29, there is time to recapture his best form under old team-mate Steven Gerrard, but his career has drifted at Barcelona. If, like Grealish, Coutinho is inspired by being the main man at Villa Park, there is fun to be had.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

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Coutinho to decide future on Friday; Gerrard reunion would be welcomed

Philippe Coutinho is set to make a decision over his future on Friday and would welcome a reunion with Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard.

Villa are understood to be one of two Premier League sides who are keen to sign Coutinho, who wants to return to England and play regular football.

Coutinho is understood to be more than willing to sign for Villa, who are 13th in the Premier League, as he sees them as an ambitious club that are building something special for the future.

The Brazilian midfielder knows Gerrard well having spent two-and-a-half years with him at Liverpool, and is said to already know a lot about Villa and their squad.

One source has told Sky Sports News there was also a chance Coutinho could return to Liverpool this month and that he would be happy to return to Anfield.

However, it is understood that Liverpool will not be pursuing a move for the 29-year-old during the January transfer window.

Coutinho was signed by Barcelona from Liverpool for a club-record £146m in January 2018, but he has struggled to hold down a first-team place at the Nou Camp and spent the 2019/20 season on loan at Bayern Munich.

There were up to six English clubs in the race to sign Coutinho earlier this week, but there are now only two serious contenders fighting it out for the midfielder.

Gerrard is a big admirer of Coutinho, but he refused to be drawn on the prospect of signing his former team-mate at Thursday’s news conference ahead of Monday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Manchester United.

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Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard remained tight-lipped on a potential move for his former Liverpool team-mate Philippe Coutinho

“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard.

“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.

“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”

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With Philippe Coutinho being linked with a move back to the Premier League, we take a look back at some of his best Premier League goals in a Liverpool shirt

‘Coutinho a serial winner wherever he’s been’

Coutinho, who has scored 28 goals in 105 games for Barca, has struggled since making his dream move to Catalonia, but still managed to win four major trophies as a bit-part player.

Despite widespread belief that Coutinho has underperformed since moving to Spain, Gerrard has defended his former team-mate’s record at the Nou Camp and thinks he still has a lot to offer.

“He won two league titles and two Copa del Reys with Barcelona,” added Gerrard.

“I think if you go and have a look at his Wikipedia page I think you’ll see a serial winner wherever he’s been.

“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the player, he’s a friend of mine, so if I’m asked the questions I can speak for as long as you want.”

Coutinho also spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan at Bayern Munich and won the Champions League, the Bundesliga, and the German Cup under Hansi Flick.

‘Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa’

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Kaveh Solhekol has revealed that a source has said that Philippe Coutinho is interested in playing for Aston Villa

Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol:

“Speaking to people on the player’s side of the deal, my feeling about this is that Philippe Coutinho would be interested in joining Aston Villa.

“He knows people at Aston Villa. He knows Steven Gerrard and Christian Purslow from his time at Liverpool. He feels Villa are an up-and-coming club. Gerrard, Purslow and the owners have big plans for the club.

“He also knows the king of quality in the Villa squad, players like Ollie Watkins, Emi Buendia and Emi Martinez, and he feels if he was playing at Villa regularly, he could help them get up the table and into Europe.

“So, I think that is definitely on the cards and as far as Aston Villa are concerned, of course, they are not giving anything away. They are not commenting at all because as far as they are concerned, he’s a Barcelona player.

“From the player’s perspective, I understand Coutinho would be more than happy to play for Aston Villa and Steven Gerrard.”

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opens on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

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Gerrard: Coutinho is a serial winner, a special player

Steven Gerrard says he can understand why so many clubs are after “special” Philippe Coutinho, but would not be drawn on Aston Villa’s interest.

Villa are one of six English clubs in the race to sign the Barcelona midfielder, with Coutinho keen to return to the Premier League and expected to make a decision on his future before this weekend.

Gerrard, who regards Coutinho as a friend after their time together at Liverpool, did not want to add to speculation, but was full of praise for the 29-year-old at Thursday’s news conference.

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With Philippe Coutinho being linked with a move back to the Premier League, we take a look back at some of his best Premier League goals in a Liverpool shirt

“Sixty-three caps for Brazil, a serial winner, was incredible at Liverpool, so I can understand why he’s linked to a lot of football clubs,” said Gerrard, ahead of Monday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Manchester United.

“I can understand why a lot of supporters up and down the country are speaking about him. I don’t think you get a nickname as a magician if you’re not a special footballer, so he’s someone I have an incredible amount of respect for.

“But I don’t want to add to any speculation, because he belongs to Barcelona.”

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The Transfer Show’s Kaveh Solhekol reports Philippe Coutinho wants to return to the Premier League


Live: SNF


Saturday 15th January 5:00pm

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The former Liverpool player wants to return to England and sign for an ambitious club where he can play regularly.

It is understood that neither Liverpool nor Tottenham are among the clubs chasing his signature.

Aston Villa have made a tentative enquiry to Barcelona, but the hierarchy are conscious of avoiding a bidding war with other clubs as the Brazilian’s wage demands could also be significant.

‘I’ve got nothing but positive things to say’

Coutinho, who has scored 28 goals in 105 games for Barca, has struggled since making his dream move in a club-record £146m transfer in January 2018, but still managed to win four major trophies in Catalonia.

Despite widespread belief that Coutinho has underperformed since moving to Spain, Gerrard has defended his former team-mate’s record at the Nou Camp and thinks he still has a lot to offer.

“He won two league titles and two Copa del Reys with Barcelona,” added Gerrard.

“I think if you go and have a look at his Wikipedia page I think you’ll see a serial winner wherever he’s been.

“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the player, he’s a friend of mine, so if I’m asked the questions I can speak for as long as you want.”

Coutinho also spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan at Bayern Munich and won the Champions League, the Bundesliga, and the German Cup under Hansi Flick.

‘Gerrard may get best out of Coutinho’

South American football expert Tim Vickery told Sky Sports News:

“I was speaking to Brazil’s coach about Coutinho and one thing he said was he’s painfully shy. It’s one of the reasons the Barcelona deal hasn’t worked out. He was never going to swagger into that dressing room. He needs an arm around him all the time. So, Gerrard knows what Coutinho can do and knows how to get the best out of him. The kind of treatment he needs.”

No club is in pole position to sign Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho's numbers have dwindled
Image:
Philippe Coutinho’s numbers have dwindled

Sky Sports News’ Kaveh Solhekol on The Transfer Show:

“There are lots of clubs interested in signing Coutinho, including six Premier League clubs, as well as clubs abroad.

“But he wants to come back to England and to return to the Premier League.

“I’m told no club is in pole position at the moment to sign him.

“I don’t think he knows where he’s going, but he’s got lots of options and his representatives are speaking to different clubs.

“We’ve seen his move to Barcelona hasn’t worked out, it’s been very stop-start. He wants to go somewhere where he can settle and play regularly.”

Villa interested in Bologna’s Hickey

September 18, 2021, Milan, United Kingdom: Milan, Italy, 18th September 2021. Aaron Hickey of Bologna FC during the Serie A match at Giuseppe Meazza, Milan. Picture credit should read: Jonathan Moscrop / Sportimage(Credit Image: © Jonathan Moscrop/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
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Steven Gerrard has admired Aaron Hickey since he was at Hearts

Aston Villa are interested in highly-rated Scottish defender Aaron Hickey, Sky Sports News has been told.

The 19-year-old left-back moved to Italian side Bologna in the summer of 2020, after breaking through at Hearts.

He has played 19 games in Serie A already this season, scoring four goals.

Gerrard was originally impressed by Hickey’s performances for Hearts against his Rangers team in Scotland, and is understood to believe he could adapt well to the Premier League.

Asked about the club’s hunt for a left-back on Thursday, Villa boss Gerrard said: “We’re analysing a few different positions, in our team and in our squad where we can look to strengthen.

“That is happening behind the scenes, there’s nothing to report in terms of individual names or areas of what’s going on.”

Villa are also exploring other possibilities to strengthen at left-back.

Follow the January transfer window with Sky Sports

Who will be on the move in January?

The January transfer window opened on Saturday January 1, 2022 and closes at 11pm on Monday January 31.

Keep up-to-date with all the latest transfer news and rumours in our dedicated Transfer Centre blog on Sky Sports’ digital platforms. You can also catch up with the ins, outs and analysis on Sky Sports News.

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