Tottenham head coach Jose Mourinho has revealed he is “sad” at Chelsea’s decision to dismiss Frank Lampard, but attributed his sacking to the norms of modern football.
Lampard was dismissed on Monday after a dreary run of results saw the Blues pick up just two Premier League wins from their last eight games, leaving them ninth in the table having sat as high as third earlier in the season.
Mourinho has managed Chelsea on two separate occasions and has been dismissed twice by the club, but did manage to win three Premier League titles during his time at Stamford Bridge. Now in charge of rivals Spurs, he was asked about Lampard’s dismissal in his latest pre-match press conference, telling reporters (via Sky Sports) that he feels for his former player.
“I am always sad when a colleague loses his job. Frank is not just a colleague, he is an important person in my career, so I feel sorry he did (get sacked),” Mourinho said.
“It is the brutality of football, especially modern football, so when you become a manager you know that sooner or later it is going to happen to you.”
Lampard is expected to be succeeded by Thomas Tuchel, who most recently managed Paris Saint-Germain until he was replaced by Mauricio Pochettino in December 2020. Reports claim there were concerns over the form of Lampard’s side as well as the atmosphere behind the scenes, where senior players had clashed with the rest of the squad.
He guided Chelsea to a fourth-placed finish and Champions League qualification in his first season in charge, relying heavily on the club’s wealth of youth talent after the Blues were handed a one-year transfer ban. As soon as that expired, the west Londoners spent big, although signings such as Kai Havertz and Timo Werner have failed to make the expected impact.
The failure to get the most out of those two, as well as the club’s poor form and rumoured disharmony, have contributed to Lampard losing his job, and when Tuchel arrives at Stamford Bridge he will become Chelsea’s fourth manager since 2016, knowing that no manager has lasted longer than two years in Roman Abramovich’s hot seat since 2007.
Few positions on a pitch are as important as central midfield. You might have a good defence and a good attack, but if you’ve got nobody to link them together, you’re going nowhere.
When you start a new Football Manager 2021 save, ensuring you’ve got the perfect spine should be one of the first things you do. Regardless of what kind of budget you’re working with, the perfect signing can still be found.
Here are some of the best central midfielders teams with any budget can buy on FM.
Borja Valero Fiorentina
At 35 years old, you’re not going to get too many years out of Borja Valero, but he’s still good enough to make an instant impact at any mid-table side, and he comes at an affordable price. The dream.
Benat Free agent
If you dip your toe into the free agent market, the best midfielder you’ll come across is Benat, who left Athletic Club in the summer when his contract expired.
Lee Jae-Sung Holstein Kiel
Unlike a lot of players in this price range, Lee Jae-Sung is only 27 years old and can therefore stick around for a good few years. The South Korean even has the potential to improve a little as well.
Rafael Carioca Tigres
A bit of a do-it-all midfielder, Rafael Carioca is a reliable option who can fill in in whatever role you ask of him. For a manager still figuring out their tactics, he’s ideal.
Jonathan dos Santos LA Galaxy
With impressively high first touch and passing stats, Jonathan dos Santos is an ideal creator for any side, and he can be picked up without breaking the bank.
Magomed Ozdoev Zenit
A real bargain for any smaller side, box-to-box midfielder Magomed Ozdoev makes his living as a tough tackler, but he’s so versatile that he can actually fill in anywhere in the attacking half. I’m not saying you should play him as a striker, but you could.
Arijan Ademi Dinamo
Dinamo’s Arijan Ademi is a real workhorse. He’s a fantastic tackler who has the physical and mental attributes needed to harass attackers for the entire 90 minutes, but don’t expect much else from him.
Oier Atletico Pamplona
Another of those who comes with a cheap price tag because of his age, 34-year-old Oier is comfortable anywhere in the spine of a team. Start him in midfield and you can drop him into centre-back when needed.
Ignacio Fernandez River
Ignacio Fernandez has spent his entire career in Argentina, but he’s easily good enough to play in any league in the world. You can pick him up for about face value.
Karim El Ahmadi Al-Ittihad
You won’t even need to part with a seven-figure sum to sign Karim El Ahmadi, who could start for a mid-table side and offer cover for a top team. Unfortunately, given he’s 35, you won’t have him for long.
Moi Gomez Villarreal
A £13.75m release clause means Moi Gomez is available for narrowly over his base value. He’s more of an attack-minded midfielder, and he’s still got a little room left to grow.
Fredrik Midtsjo AZ
The definition of versatile, Frederik Midtsjo is a midfielder by trade, but he can play both further forward and further back. You can chuck him out to either wing, and he’ll even give right-back a good go.
Maximilian Arnold Wolfsburg
Maximilian Arnold can do a little bit of it all at a high level, but his stand-out attributes are his passing and long shots. He can add a new dimension to any side.
Matias Vecino Inter
Inter’s abundance of midfielders means they’re pretty willing to sell, so give them a decent sum and they’ll likely jump at the chance to offload Matias Vecino.
Roberto Gagiardini Inter
There’s not much difference in quality between Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini, but the latter is both younger and cheaper. Inter’ll accept bids of below half of his base value.
Hakan Calhanoglu Milan
Given he’s in the final year of his contract, Milan will offer you a little discount to sign Hakan Calhanoglu, and you should be all over that. He’s an elite creator who is good enough for even the best sides on the planet, though his price tag wouldn’t suggest that.
Kevin Kampl RB Leipzig
Another all-rounder, Kevin Kampl can impress anywhere in midfield with his versatile skill set, and he’s available for marginally over his asking price.
Remo Freuler Atalanta
Another side prepared to listen to offers for a lot of their players, Atalanta will be pretty generous in negotiations over Remo Freuler, but you’ll need to dig deep into the wage budget to actually lure him away.
Sami Khedira Zebre
From a transfer fee perspective, Sami Khedira is a real bargain, but the German comes with enormous wages which will likely be too much for most mid-table sides. One to consider if you can find the wiggle room.
Porto man Otavio has the potential to grow into a real star midfielder, so his price tag reflects that a little bit, but you can still get a good deal for the 25-year-old Brazilian if you offer a little over his base value.
Jack Grealish Aston Villa
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can deploy Jack Grealish in the deeper ‘eight’ role, and you can sign him for less than half of the £100m being thrown around as his real-world asking price.
Jordan Veretout Roma
A playmaker with a real eye for a tackle, Jordan Veretout is comfortable dropping into more of a deeper, Andrea Pirlo-esque role when needed.
Adrien Rabiot Zebre
Juventus are also willing to offload some of their midfielders, and one of the best on offer is Adrien Rabiot. He’s an elite athlete with outstanding passing vision and the potential to grow into a genuine superstar. What’s not to love?
Rodrigo Bentancur Zebre
If you’re willing to stretch your budget a little more to around the £50m mark, you’ll be able to lure Rodrigo Bentancur away from Juventus. He’s younger than Rabiot and can grow into one of the best midfielders in the game, so it’s definitely one to consider.
Marcelo Brozovic Inter
Inter don’t actually want to sell Marcelo Brozovic, but luckily for you, his £45.5m release clause to foreign clubs means they don’t really get a say in it if you’ve got the cash.
Corentin Tolisso Bayern
If we’re talking bargains, this is it. Bayern Munich will hand Corentin Tolisso over to you for his base value, which should make him a no-brainer for any manager. He’s an elite midfielder with room to grow, but you can land him for half the price of similar players. Get moving.
Sergi Roberto Barcelona
Sergi Roberto came through as a central midfielder and probably should be moved back there. Loosen his defensive shackles and you’ll enjoy an elite-level playmaker with outstanding vision and team work.
Joshua Kimmich Bayern
We’re talking real money here. Joshua Kimmich is not cheap (nor should he be), but his price tag still seems cheaper than it should be. Bayern will listen to offers of around £66m which, for a player among the very best on the planet, is a steal.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic Lazio
For the same kind of money, you can pick up Lazio beast Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has been linked with every top club on the planet. As a goalscoring, assist-grabbing 25-year-old, it’s not hard to understand why.
Luka Modric Real Madrid
You can sign Luka Modric for a seven-figure sum, but he makes it to the expensive options purely because of his astronomical wages. For a top side, it’s definitely something to consider and it’s 100% feasible, but just be aware that it’s not as cheap as it may appear.
The Premier League have confirmed guidance has been added regarding the offside law, with players no longer allowed to challenge for the ball if they come from an offside position.
The clarification of the rules was necessary after Manchester City scored a controversial goal against Aston Villa last week. With the game at 0-0, City took the lead when Rodri came back from an offside position to tackle Tyrone Mings, before laying it off for Bernardo Silva to score.
In the aftermath of the strike, Dean Smith was red carded for remonstrating with the officials, while Mings described the decision as ‘nonsense’.
In response to the incident, the Premier League discussed the ruling with both IFAB and UEFA. The results of these talks were then released in a statement, which read: “Where a player in an offside position immediately impacts on an opponent who has deliberately played the ball, the match officials should prioritise challenging an opponent for the ball, and thus the offside offence of ‘interfering with an opponent by impacting on the opponent’s ability to play the ball’ should be penalised.
“Accordingly, if a similar situation to the one involving Rodri’s impact on Mings occurred in a future match, then the impact would be penalised for offside.
“However, it is important to remember that where a player in an offside position receives the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball (e.g. a misplaced pass or miskick), including by deliberate handball, the player is not considered to have gained an advantage, unless it was a deliberate save by any opponent.
“Accordingly, Aston Villa’s first goal against Newcastle United on Saturday 23 January 2021 was correctly not penalised for offside as Ollie Watkins received the ball following a deliberate play by Fabian Schar and did not impact Schar’s ability to play the ball.”
Marcus Rashford will be fit to play for Manchester United against Sheffield United on Wednesday evening after undergoing a scan on his knee.
Rashford was substituted late on during his side’s 3-2 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round, limping off the field and heading straight down the tunnel in apparent discomfort. The sight was a concerning one for fans, especially considering the 23-year-old’s impact on the tie; he scored one and set up another to send United through to the fifth round.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed after the match that Rashford was set to undergo a scan on his knee to assess the damage, but has confirmed his availability for the midweek fixture in his pre-match press conference, quoted by the Manchester Evening News.
“Marcus is available, yeah, he trained this morning,” Solskjaer said. “Available for selection. He tweaked his knee a little bit but trained fully this morning. Good place to be.”
The news is a huge boost to Rashford and United. The England international has already bagged 15 goals and 10 assists in all competitions and looks set to better last season’s career-best goal tally, provided he can stay fit. A stress fracture in his back derailed Rashford’s form at the end of last season, but hasn’t interrupted him this campaign.
Solskjaer also confirmed that Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof are both fit and available to play, and admitted that it ‘won’t be long’ before he brings new signing Amad Diallo into the side after he arrived from Atalanta earlier this month for an initial £18.5m.
Diallo’s arrival pushed Jesse Lingard further down United’s pecking order, casting further doubt over the future of the 28-year-old. Solskjaer confirmed that ‘no deal has been struck’ for Lingard as of yet, although West Ham are expected to complete a loan deal before the window closes.
Summer arrival Facundo Pellistri, meanwhile, could be leaving the club on loan, with ‘quite a few clubs interested’ and Solskjaer keen to get him regular minutes at senior level. He has been plying his trade with the Under-23s, scoring three times so far.
Of the three sides promoted to the Premier League last season, two of them are staring well and truly down the barrel of relegation.
Despite pressing the Sam Allardyce panic button over a month ago, West Brom remain six points adrift of safety, with Scott Parker’s Fulham side just a point nearer to survival.
So then, of the 2019/20 Championship alumni, the only side currently in the top tier who seem to be prospering is Leeds United – 11 points above the drop zone, comfortably sat in mid-table with a striker just three goals off the pace setter in the race for this season’s Golden Boot.
Take a bow Leeds, it seems many of your fanbase who predicated a potential European place in your maiden season back in the big time weren’t too far off.
Oh how the Yorkshiremen wish this were true.
If a team was credited with a point every time a pundit described them as a ‘breath off fresh air’ (regardless of whether they’re getting absolutely torn to shreds at the time or not) Marcelo Bielsa’s side would be on course to usurp Pep Guardiola’s ‘Centurions’ of 2017/18.
Unfortunately, there’s no prizes for playing attacking football alone – ask everyone’s former favourite attacking side Blackpool who slipped from the Premier League to League Two in just five years – and Leeds are in grave danger of being dragged into a relegation fight if they don’t pick up three points against Newcastle.
Since Bielsa took the reins at Elland Road, momentum has been key to their success. His high intensity style of play clearly takes its tole on players as the season wears on, but when your team’s winning it’s much easier to put in the hard yards.
However, for all the impressive winning streaks Leeds have mastered since the Argentinian taskmaster’s arrival, their collapses have been just as dramatic, and their current winless run of three games – including defeats to a struggling Brighton side and League Two Crawley – has all the hallmarks of the beginning of another Leeds car crash.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – if Bielsa could hand pick one team in the league to play next it would be Newcastle.
The Magpies are in a state of disarray at the moment – ten without a win in all competitions, pressure mounting on Steve Bruce so much that they’ve banned newspapers from asking questions in his press conferences, Mike Ashley’s departure seeming like a distant dream and reports the club won’t be sanctioning any new arrivals this transfer window.
Coupled with the fact Leeds taught them a footballing lesson earlier this season in their 5-2 demolition of Bruce’s men, this fixture couldn’t have come at a better time for Bielsa’s men. Yet with expectancy comes pressure, and if Leeds buckle at St James’ Park, they’re in big trouble.
Over the next month Bielsa’s side face some very tricky fixtures including clashes with Leicester, Everton, Aston Villa, as well as trips to Arsenal and Wolves. The only match you would say they would go into as favourites sees them face a Crystal Palace side who destroyed them at Selhurst Park in November.
While Leeds’ early-season success was the result of solid team performances, a number of key individuals stood out after having their top-flight credentials questioned.
Goalkeeper Illan Meslier performed brilliantly in the opening months of the season – despite looking shaky at times in the Championship – while Patrick Bamford defied critics in finding the back of the net with regularity.
However, in recent weeks Meslier has looked more like the vulnerable youngster who struggled last season, while Bamford is three games without a goal – hardly a disaster but still his worst run of the season.
Leeds look like a team in need of a spark, something to reignite their campaign and drag them out of the doldrums, and a bit of individual brilliance or a quality display from either of their early-season top performers could be just the ticket.
Put simply, Leeds can ill-afford to head into this tough run of fixtures low on confidence, and if a dismal Newcastle side manage to take even a point away from Bielsa’s side’s visit to the north east, that’s exactly what will happen.
Season defining games don’t usually come around until April/May time, but it’s fair to say that – just a few weeks into 2021 – Leeds are about to face theirs.