Lopetegui’s main man: Wolves target PSG’s Pablo Sarabia

According to the Spanish press, Wolverhampton Wanderers are keen on acquiring the signature of PSG’s Pablo Sarabia. Sarabia, the 30-year-old Spanish winger, is Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui’s main transfer target.

Sarabia’s contract at the French champions runs out in June 2024, but he may not stay that long. According to AS, Wolves have made an offer for the Spanish international, for whom the grass may be greener in the Premier League.

The deal may be advantageous to PSG, who already have a wealth of attacking options on the wing. Sarabia has not managed a single goal contribution in 19 appearances across all competitions this season. He seems to have struggled to find his feet in 2022/23, whereas his league form on loan at Sporting Lisbon last season saw him accrue 15 goals and 8 assists across 29 matches. PSG acquired Sarabia from Sevilla FC for €20m in 2019.

Lopetegui, manager of the Premier League side since last November, is keen on Sarabia. Lopetegui has a previous relationship with him: Sarabia, now a full international for Spain, had been in the youth teams when Lopetegui was head coach.

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Bournemouth plot double Lorient swoop as they enter discussions over Enzo Le Fée move

According to Le Parisien, Bournemouth are in discussions with FC Lorient over the signing of midfielder Enzo Le Fée (22) – as they look to conclude a deal alongside the agreement already made for young striker Dango Ouattara (20). Whilst both parties are far from agreeing on a fee for the young midfielder, Benjamin Quarez reports that they are close to an overall agreement, with the English club pushing hard for a deal in the last few days.

As reported with the case of Ouattara, negotiations have been helped by the recent minority acquisition of 33% of FC Lorient by Bournemouth’s American owner Bill Foley – the club would otherwise struggle to attract the player to move to the 17th-placed Premier League side. 

It was reported by Santi Aouna previously that an agreement was reached between the Cherries and Les Merlus for the young striker worth €27.5m including add-ons. Reports that the striker had already left France were false, with the youngster turning up to training on Tuesday morning, as reported by Ouest-France. 

In the case of Le Fée Bournemouth are attracted by the profile of the midfielder, who has made 19 appearances for Lorient this season, scoring three goals and registering four assists. Lorient manager Régis Le Bris would like to keep the player, however, until the end of the season. 



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Marseille to include Bamba Dieng in potential Terem Moffi deal with Lorient

Ligue 1’s second-placed team Marseille have entered the race to sign Lorient striker Terem Moffi (23) and would be ready to include out-of-favour Senegalese forward Bamba Dieng (22) in a potential deal with the Brittany outfit, according to a report from Foot Mercato.

Earlier this Monday, L’Equipe claimed that OM would pursue a deal for Ligue 1’s second best goalscorer to bolster their attacking options. Marseille president Pablo Longoria and Marseille sporting director Javier Ribalta have both contacted the player’s entourage in order to lay the groundwork for a possible transfer. However, an offer is yet to be made, and it is accepted that it will take a significant financial outlay to conclude a deal.

But in order to reduce said outlay, OM would integrate Dieng as part of the deal. The Senegalese international, who scored against hosts Qatar at the World Cup, has been criticised lately by OM manager Igor Tudor regarding his cameo against Stade Rennais in a Coupe de France tie. The Croatian boss stated he “did not like the way he played and told him so” just after the win against Bruno Génésio’s team last Friday.

Dieng would welcome a new challenge and improved game time at Lorient, Foot Mercato report. But OM’s plan may be thwarted by Moffi’s desire to join OGC Nice, with whom he has already agreed personal terms. With Marseille entering the race to sign Moffi, the Ineos-owned club may have no choice but to go to a bidding war and improve their €20m offer for the Nigerian striker which will play right into Loïc Fery’s hands. Foot Mercato add that the Lorient president expects nothing less than a €25m fee for his forward.

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Ligue 1 predictions: Round 20


Raphaël: 102

Luke: 93

Game of the week: Olympique de Marseille v AS Monaco, Saturday 20:00 (UK)

Luke: Ligue 1 returns after last weekend’s Coupe de France action, and it is a gameweek laden with brilliant and difficult-to-predict fixtures. After Marseille’s thrilling late win at the Stade Louis II just before the World Cup break, Monaco face Les Phocéens again on Saturday night. Both are in good form and have the necessary firepower to win the game. Paris Saint-Germain versus Stade de Reims will also be a tight fixture. Christophe Galtier’s side haven’t been in top form since the return of domestic football, which Will Still remains undefeated with Reims. 

Elsewhere, FC Lorient take on Stade Rennais in the Breton Derby. Both will be hoping to reaffirm their European credentials. They will be looking to close RC Lens, who should make light work at a struggling ESTAC Troyes. In the battle of two of the most inconsistent sides in the division, Lille visit OGC Nice on Sunday. Goals are guaranteed with both sides in desperate need of points to close the gap to the European places. Buoyed by the arrival of their new caretaker manager Didier Digard, Nice could just have the edge. 

Raphaël’s full predictions:

Lorient 1-1 Rennes

Troyes 0-2 Lens

OM 3-1 Monaco

Nice 2-2 Lille

Auxerre 2-1 Montpellier

Brest 1-0 Angers

Clermont 1-1 Nantes

Strasbourg 1-2 Toulouse

Ajaccio 0-2 Lyon

PSG 3-2 Reims

Luke’s full predictions: 

Lorient 1-2 Rennes 

Troyes 0-3 Lens

Marseille 1-2 Monaco 

Nice 3-2 Lille 

Auxerre 0-0 Montpellier 

Brest 1-0 Angers

Clermont 2-0 Nantes

Strasbourg 3-1 Toulouse 

Ajaccio 0-2 Lyon 

PSG 0-0 Reims

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Official | Bristol City midfielder Han-Noah Massengo loaned to Auxerre

Auxerre have announced the five-month loan of Bristol City midfielder Han-Noah Massengo (21), the clubs have announced. The 21-year-old made 12 appearances for the Robins this season in all competitions. He has made a total of 110 appearances in midfield for the English side, and has registered three assists. He will be out of contract with the Championship side next June.

🆕 Han-Noah Massengo prêté à l’@AJA 🖊️Le jeune milieu de terrain français (21 ans) est prêté jusqu’à la fin de saison, sans option d’achat, par @BristolCityPlus d’infos 👉 https://t.co/hGdsZefT7M𝐖𝐞𝐥𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐇𝐚𝐧-𝐍𝐨𝐚𝐡 ! 🔵⚪️#TeamAJA pic.twitter.com/cAcWRpMHue

— AJ Auxerre (@AJA) January 30, 2023


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He previously played academy football at Monaco where he made 23 appearances for their U21 side and registered two assists. He is a flexible player who can play in multiple positions in midfield, playing 61 games in a more central positions with 38 appearances in a holding role. He was one of the youngest French players ever to play Champions League football with Monaco in 2018. He will wear the #80 jersey with the Yonne outfit. Auxerre were in the market for a midfielder after newly-signed Ghanaian international defensive midfielder Elisha Owusu (25) suffered a serious injury in training last week.

Laurent Blanc criticises Lyon players: “In their attitude, they lack aggression to score.”

Speaking following Olympique Lyonnais’s 0-0 draw against Brest last night in Ligue 1, manager Laurent Blanc was not best pleased with his players’ performances, especially in attack. Blanc says his players are lacking in their attitude going forward, and that there is a missing killer instinct within his attacking players. The following was transcribed by RMC Sport.

Blanc told the press that Lyon’s players lack the necessary “spontaneity and aggressiveness to score,” explaining that he sees “situations on the touchline, and I feel they are not going to make the right decisions”. The Frenchman then says “you have to be a killer” and that “once you have scored, the game changes completely,” highlighting that “you have to score the first goal, whether its a rebound, a header, a corner or free-kick.”

Lyon largely dominated the match against Brest in terms of possession but could not find the breakthrough against the Breton side to follow up their win against Ajaccio at the weekend with a 0-0 draw at home. 


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Lampard speaks out on Everton fine system as he admits ‘priority’ change this season

Frank Lampard has explained why he has now introduced a fine system at Everton similar to the one he used at Chelsea in his time at Stamford Bridge.

Lampard arrived at Everton last season with the Toffees in a relegation battle and decided not to immediately implement fines in that high-pressure situation.

But that has now changed, with Lampard revealing that many of the players like the attempt to improve discipline in the squad.

He told the Liverpool Echo: “When I went to Chelsea the feeling was that maybe discipline had not been spot on – that was from the players by the way, not my view, so we brought that in.

“It got a few eyebrows because of the numbers, and then in the second year at Chelsea I came off that a little bit and then you come into Everton.

“I think I said at the time it didn’t feel a priority last year to go ‘you are fined if you are late’, the priority was ‘can we get three points this weekend?’

Now we have got a little bit more time this season, the group is set up, the players have come in, I think a lot of the players, my feeling is they like there being some sort of policing of the standards and I think it can help if done right.

“We feel like the players are fully involved in it so they are happy with the levels, we are not killing them with the levels, but it is good to have something in place to make sure we stay on point.

“We certainly speak to the players a lot about the balance of confidence and progression and complacency, it is a very fine line and I think things like a leadership group and the right fines system can help keep that balance.”

One change Lampard did implement on his arrival was the creation of a leadership group which has remained this season, though it’s a fluid group with new members added over the summer.

He explained: “We brought it in at the end of last season and it was probably a critical time when we were trying to find ways to stay in the league. We had some experienced players – and some who are not here anymore – in that group.

“It looks different now. I have a lot of trust in it. There are good pros in it and a bit of balance that it hopefully represents all of the squad.

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“I went into management and I wasn’t sure on leadership groups. I went through my career and I wouldn’t say I didn’t pay attention to it but I was fortunate that at the club I was at that it was just there. The leadership group just dealt with stuff without being a group.”

“[I] think that in modern management, of some of the things that challenge you all the time, some things should be dealt with by the players before you.

“I think when you have a group of good lads who want to do the right thing they can deal with a small issue in the dressing room or a small thing about how we prepare for games, stuff like that. It is important.”

‘Realist’ Joe Schmidt remains Ireland’s trump card ahead of Boks clash

HEYNEKE MEYER IS no mug, but Joe Schmidt will back himself to have out-thought his South African counterpart ahead of tomorrow’s highly-anticipated November Test in Dublin.

Such is the Ireland head coach’s hard-earned reputation that even a decision as seemingly left-field as starting Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne together in midfield has to be accepted concurrently as one of wisdom.

The Kiwi tactician, more often that not, knows best.

South Africa are six-point favourites amongst the bookies in the build-up, they’re ranked second in the world, and have recently beaten number one side New Zealand. Ireland are down a raft of proven international players, have concerns over the fitness of their tighthead prop and start with an unfamiliar centre pairing.

It seems stacked against the home team entirely, but under Schmidt there is never anything less than a positive mindset – one based on the knowledge that the prep work has been done expertly.

“Optimism doesn’t feature too much for me, realism does,” said Schmidt after naming his match-day squad yesterday.

“That enthusiasm is contagious and I think that everyone is excited about the opportunity coming up at 5.30pm on Saturday. You want to play the best and you want to measure yourself against the best.

“We want that measurement to be as positive as possible and that’s why we’ve worked as hard as possible over the last number of weeks. I think optimist, pessimist – realist is what’s right in front of us. All we can try to control is our best preparation and see what happens on Saturday.”

Much of the discussion yesterday at Carton House was centred on Ireland’s new centre duo. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

That Ireland’s assembly process in the last fortnight has been world-class is in little doubt. Schmidt is the most relentless of taskmasters when it comes to training ground detail and execution.

It doesn’t matter if it’s 94-cap Paul O’Connell or uncapped Darragh Leader – every single player, coach and backroom staff member must contribute as knowledgeably and intensely as the next.

“People need to know their detail, that’s the massive thing for Joe,” said hooker Sean Cronin at Carton House yesterday, and we can rest assured that the Leinster man has studied video footage of both Ireland and South Africa’s line-outs, scrums and mauls in great depth.

Schmidt, like any other top-level coach, is also highly demanding of his players when it comes to the breakdown and ruck. Whatever about game plans, this is the real basis of the sport, the source of all good for his teams.

While everything centred around winning the breakdown and ruck, Ireland’s victorious Six Nations campaign earlier this year was notable for the manner in which other elements of the game plan were tailored to the opposition so ideally.

Wales were flummoxed by Ireland’s intelligent kicking, Italy couldn’t handle the Irish offloading game, while France were beaten in part by one of Schmidt’s superbly tailored ‘power plays’ [Andrew Trimble’s try].

Schmidt and his analysis team of Mervyn Murphy and Vinny Hammond will have pored over countless hours of footage of this Springboks team and identified any chinks in their defence.

There is likely to be an ample dose of kicking from Ireland’s halfbacks tomorrow. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Picking out weaknesses in the second best team in the world of rugby is no easy task. One potentially looks at their habit of being slow to fold in defence after kick chase, as well as their sometimes poor resourcing of rucks in wide channels, but there is comfort in knowing that Schmidt will have highlighted the minor details.

Rob Kearney has given a clear indication that Ireland will look to the skies with their kicking game against the Springboks, maintaining what was a pillar of their game last season.

Time and again, Schmidt asked Andrew Trimble and the Kearney brothers to chase kicks from Conor Murray and Sexton, demanding that his back three get in the air to spoil and regain possession.

This weekend, the slight susceptibility of Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks under the high ball will be greatly tested. Bryan Habana is solid in that area on South Africa’s left wing, but the other members of the Boks’ back three can expect a barrage.

As for what Meyer’s men do when they have possession of the ball, there has been much discussion of their broadened attacking dimensions. Those are certainly a reality, but it’s worth stressing again that collision, driving maul and kicking foundations will remain for the Boks.

“[Handré] Pollard put the ball in behind New Zealand really intelligently in the Test in Wellington earlier in the Rugby Championship, as did le Roux. They’ve got some very good kicking options as well as those running options.”

So plenty of kicking at the Aviva tomorrow evening? Schmidt will have little concern if the fixture is not the most aesthetically pleasing. In compensation, there is something eminently watchable about about the heavy contact and breakdown battle likely to be played out in between the flashes of attacking quality from both teams.

Schmidt needs his forward pack to cope in the set-pieces at the Aviva. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

We can be sure that Schmidt has men like Jack McGrath, Sean Cronin and Simon Zebo psychologically prepared. These players may not have been seen as first-choice before the heavy spate of injuries, but the Ireland coach will point to the impacts of Trimble and Chris Henry last season from similar positions.

Beyond those auditioning to become long-term first-choice elements, Schmidt can call upon world-class players like Sexton, Murray, O’Connell, Jamie Heaslip, Kearney and Tommy Bowe to implement his game plan effectively.

The Springboks are justifiably favourites for this game, and an Ireland win would be a major achievement, but this remains a strong XV – even without the repeatedly flagged absentees.

There has been a slight lack of optimism around this game from home quarters this week. Realistically speaking, however, Schmidt’s coaching acumen gives Ireland a well-prepared, intelligent chance of upsetting the odds.

Cronin eager for ‘massive opportunity’ as key ball-carrier against the Boks‘They’re big lads’ – Kearney excited to play off Henshaw and Payne pairing