Juventus quash ‘fantasy’ talk of Salah-Dybala swap deal

Juventus have sought to distance themselves from rumours regarding a potential swap deal involving Paulo Dybala and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, with sporting director Fabio Paratici describing such talk as “fantasy”.

It had been suggested, as transfer speculation resurfaces on the back of the January window, that those in Turin are eager to put another marquee deal in place this summer.

Having landed Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in 2018, the sights of the Serie A champions are said to have turned towards another global superstar currently on the books at Anfield.

In an effort to sweeten any deal, reports claimed that Argentina international Dybala could be used as a makeweight in efforts to bring a former Fiorentina and Roma star back to Italy.

Paratici has, however, quashed the gossip by telling Radio Rai: “Right now it’s just fantasy, we are still in February and we don’t know what will happen in June.”

He added on Juve’s business, with a deal already in place to take Aaron Ramsey as a free agent: “I believe we’ve already signed a big player and it’s Ramsey who has 350 appearances with Arsenal. He is already a big signing for us.”

While playing down the talk of an imminent deal involving Dybala, questions have been asked of the South American’s future over recent weeks.

Paratici is hoping to bring the speculation to a close, with there no desire on Juve’s part to allow a player yet to reach his peak to slip through their net.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala, Juventus

He added: “He is 25, he is a player of Juventus and he has already proven a lot. I am sure he will become a legend and a leader of Juve, he has the technical skills to do it.”

For now, Dybala remains an important part of the Bianconeri’s plans as they chase down more major honours at home and abroad.

An unbeaten record in Serie A has them 13 points clear at the summit, while the first leg of a Champions League last-16 clash with Atletico Madrid is set to be taken in on Wednesday.

European glory has become a top priority for a club that has gone 23 years without conquering the continent, especially now that they have proven winner Cristiano Ronaldo on their books.

“The Champions League is one of our targets, a motivation to improve and do well,” said Paratici.

“We need many things in order to win it, including a bit of luck.

“[Massimiliano] Allegri? He is perfect for our project. I am sure his future doesn’t depend on the Champions League and that he will remain with us for a long time. We are always looking for new motivations, we want to improve the team every year.”

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‘Mendy is ready for Messi’ – Lyon’s Barcelona-linked star tipped by Aouar to handle biggest test

Lyon are readying themselves to face Barcelona in the Champions League, with Houssem Aouar claiming that Ferland Mendy is up to the task of trying to contain Lionel Messi.

The Ligue 1 outfit are set to play host to the Liga giants in the first leg of a last-16 encounter on Tuesday.

Any hope the French side have of progressing to the quarter-finals will likely rest on their ability to keep Barca’s star men quiet.

The mercurial talents of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi pose the greatest threat to the Lyon cause, while Aouar is confident that highly-rated full-back Mendy – who has been heavily linked with a move to Camp Nou – is capable of holding his own when faced with the most daunting of tests.

“I think that Mendy is ready to come up against Lionel Messi,” said the talented playmaker.

“We have prepared well and we are feeling confident.”

Lyon’s efforts will be hindered against Barca by the absence of key creative influence Nabil Fekir.

They do, however, boast plenty of other attacking talents, with 20-year-old Aouar among those capable of causing Catalan foes problems.

He believes Lyon can shine on the grandest of stages, even if they are running into a star-studded opponent.

“They have incredible players all over the pitch, you cannot just deal with one or two because they are all capable of hurting you,” added the youngstes.

“Without [Fekir] we often tend to be on the losing side.

“Having said that, we have lots of players who can replace him.”

Houssem Aouar Lyon

Aouar, who is drawing plenty of admiring glances from across Europe and will be hoping to impress against a side of Barcelona’s calibre, added on the challenge facing Bruno Genesio’s side: “We have prepared well for the match and we are focused.

“We are all aware of the challenge that we are faced with but we are going to go out there and give it our all.

“We are not scared of Barcelona, we are raring to go.”

Lyon reached the last 16 after going unbeaten through the group stage.

Five draws prevented them from topping the standings, but their solitary success did come away at Premier League champions Manchester City to offer them hope heading into a two-legged tie with the Spanish title holders.

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Firmino shakes off illness to be available for Liverpool vs Bayern clash

Liverpool have been handed a boost ahead of their Champions League clash with Bayern Munich with Roberto Firmino cleared to link up with Jurgen Klopp’s squad.

Firmino had missed training at Melwood on Monday due to a virus, but was able to join up with his team-mates ahead of this evening’s game.

The news will come as a fillip for Klopp, who is already preparing to use midfielder Fabinho as an auxiliary centre-back for the last-16 first-leg tie at Anfield.

Dejan Lovren is unlikely to feature having sat out of yesterday’s training session, the Croatian not yet recovered from a hamstring injury sustained last month.

Firmino, though, is expected to start in a three-man attack with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, meaning the Brazilian will maintain his record of featuring in all 34 of Liverpool’s European games under Klopp.

Bayern, meanwhile, will make a late decision over winger Kingsley Coman, who suffered a knock in their Bundesliga game with Augsburg last week.

Centre-back Jerome Boateng won’t be available, however, and was absent from the travelling party heading to Liverpool due to illness.

The Reds are currently on a run of five games without defeat in all competitions, having last come unstuck against Wolves in the FA Cup on January 7.

Klopp’s men were beaten three times in the Champions League group stages, although a 1-0 win over Napoli in their final game ensured they qualified for the last 16 behind PSG.

Bayern, meanwhile, won four of their six group games, scoring 15 goals in the process, with Robert Lewandowski currently the tournament’s top scorer for the 2018-19 campaign with eight to his name.

The Bavarians haven’t had it all their own domestically, however, with Bayern currently trailing Dortmund in the Bundesliga title race, although they have managed to cut the gap to just three points over the past round of fixtures.

Liverpool last faced Bayern in the Audi Cup back in 2017, with goals from Mane, Salah and Daniel Sturridge securing a 3-0 win for the visitors.

The Reds also claimed a 3-2 UEFA Super Cup win over their German opponents in 2001, John Arne Riise, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen on target in that game at the Stade Louis II.

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Latest FA Cup Betting: Manchester City odds-on for domestic glory after drawing Swansea

Manchester City have been cut to 4/5 (1.80) to win the FA Cup after they were given a quarter-final trip to Swansea City in Monday’s draw.

bet365 had initially made them Evens (2.0) following their routine 4-1 win at Newport County on Saturday night, but that quote was cut even further thanks to their kind draw.

Pep Guardiola certainly has the depth at his disposal to justify a deep cup run but with the Champions League and the Premier League surely priorities, it remains to be seen how he approaches this competition in the latter stages.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Manchester United FA Cup

Swansea, who saw off Brentford 4-1 in the last round, are one of only two Championship teams left in the tournament and are now out at 100/1 (101.0) from 66/1 (67.0) ahead of their tie with City.

The draw was made on Monday night after Manchester United had seen off Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge, with the Red Devils drifting out to 7/2 (from 10/3) after being handed a tricky tie away at Wolves.

With Champions League progress unlikely, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could focus on domestic cup glory as he continues to audtition for the permanent role but a trip to Molineux is not the tie he would have preferred.

Wolves are a 10/1 (11.0) chance with bet365, putting them as third-favourites in the market. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men won 1-0 at Bristol City in the fifth round to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches.

FA Cup odds graphic

The quarter-finals will see one other all-Premier League tie with Watford hosting Crystal Palace. The Hornets are 12/1 (13.0) to win the FA Cup for the first time, whilst the Eagles can be backed at 16/1 (17.0).

Millwall flirting with Championship relegation has not stopped them performing in the cup, with the Lions likely to fancy their chances of beating Brighton at home having stunned Everton 3-2 there in the fourth round.

This is the third time in seven seasons they have reached this stage of the competition and bet365 make Neil Harris’ side 50/1 (51.0) to win it for the first time ever, whilst Brighton are available at 16/1 (17.0).

Betting Banner - Best BetCheck out the latest FA Cup odds at bet365

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‘No one can replace him, but the idea of Barca football will remain the same’ – Bartomeu discusses post-Messi future

Barcelona are beginning to plan for a future without Lionel Messi, although club president Josep Maria Bartomeu believes he will sign another contract.

The 31-year-old’s current deal will expire after the 2020-21 campaign and the Barca captain has previously said he would like to return to his homeland with boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.

Messi started his career at Newell’s but moved to Barcelona as a teenager, developing into an all-time great of the game with nine La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns to his name.

Bartomeu remains hopeful Messi can be persuaded to extend his time at the club even further but accepts Barca must have a plan for when the Argentina international moves on.

“We are already thinking about it, but it is a future still far away,” Bartomeu said to Le Figaro. “He is a young player, he is 31-years-old, his performance is very good, he plays even better and better, I do not know how he does it!

“He has a contract for two seasons, but I think he will extend his career beyond 2021. But you have to think of young talent. When Messi no longer plays, no one can replace him. It’s impossible.

“Behind Messi, there is nobody. Neither in Barca nor anywhere else. The coach of the day will have to think of how the team will play [but] the idea of Barca football will remain the same.”

Barcelona have been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain’s Adrien Rabiot, but Bartomeu went on to deny any contact between the La Liga leaders and the France international.

Rabiot is expected to leave PSG at the end of the season, when his deal expires, with the midfielder not in contention for selection by coach Thomas Tuchel due to the contract stand-off.

“The planning of the club for the next seasons is not yet launched, we will start in March,” Bartomeu said of links to Rabiot.

“In addition, Barca always puts the priority on the players of our B team. If we do not find them, we will look for them outside.

“The only sure thing about Rabiot is that on June 30 he will be free.”

One player who will be lining up for Barca next season is the Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong, with the Netherlands international adding to Ernesto Valverde’s midfield options after agreeing on a move worth €86million.

“When a player arrives at Barca, he knows he will be competing. It’s a challenge for them, some accept it, others do not,” Bartomeu continued. “When we go looking for talent outside, we are sometimes told: ‘I want to play, not be on the bench.’

“He is a player who will mark a time of European football. He has an incredible talent and an understanding of football which is that of Barca… and the same as that of Ajax.”

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