Manchester United fans on Twitter have pleaded with Jose Mourinho and Ed Woodward to sign Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.
The defender was imperious at the back for the Serie A side during their Champions League defeat to Liverpool at Anfield on Tuesday night.
Despite conceding to Mohamed Salah, the Senegal international showed he had the intelligence, pace and technical ability to cut it in the Premier League.
With United conceding goals for fun after failing to land a top centre-half in the summer, Jose Mourinho has been forced to deploy Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay at the back at times – much to the chagrin of Red Devils supporters.
Former Napoli and Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was asked by Italian Newspaper Corriere dello Sport to name a player from each side that could make the difference in Tuesday’s Champions League clash between the two this week.
“I could say many players, both from Liverpool and Napoli,” the Spaniard admitted. “On the one hand [Sadio] Mane, [Roberto] Firmino, [Daniel] Sturridge; on the other [Jose] Callejon, [Dries] Mertens, [Raul] Albiol and [Kalidou] Koulibaly. However, if I’m asked about one from each side then I’d have to say [Mohamed] Salah and [Lorenzo] Insigne.”
While it is true that both sides have players that can hurt the other, Napoli have evolved more than once since the Benitez era at the Stadio San Paolo. Three years of the precise, passing style of Maurizio Sarri brought the Partenopei within agonising distance of lifting the Scudetto at the end of last season, the tactician moving on to a fresh challenge with Chelsea in the summer.
In his place stepped Carlo Ancelotti for 2018/19, a man whose achievements on paper vastly outweighed his predecessor. The arrival of a man who had won the Champions League on three separate occasions spelled a change of tack for Napoli, a rotation system quickly installed in place of Sarri’s rigid starting XI that had been drained of all energy by the end of the last three consecutive campaigns.
Defensive frailties blighted their early league encounters, as Napoli conceded no less than six goals with their first six shots faced on target under the new man in charge, registering a 2-1 win over Lazio, a 3-2 victory versus AC Milan and a shock 3-0 loss to Sampdoria. Yet the international break gave Ancelotti time to work with his defenders, who were very clearly lost at sea after a move away from the rigid methods of their former boss.
The next four matches saw Napoli concede just one goal before going down to a 3-1 defeat to Juventus in Turin on September 29th. This, and the match with Sampdoria remain Napoli’s only two domestic defeats, and the fact they still sit eight points behind the Bianconeri in the league is more to do with the latter side’s sheer dominance than any failures from Ancelotti’s men.
Of course, it is in European competition where Ancelotti’s pedigree comes into its own, and once again he is proving this in his native Italy. The Partenopei are unbeaten in Group C, sitting at the top with nine points going into the final match, when many – after they were drawn out to play Liverpool, Paris Saint Germain and Red Star Belgrade – didn’t expect them to compete at all.
Let’s be clear, Napoli do not benefit from rich owners, the current squad constructed mainly from funds generated from player sales. Indeed, Since making their debut in the Champions League in 2011/12, this season marks the first time they have ever been unbeaten in their first four group stage matches.
Versus Liverpool, the neutral supporters should be in for a treat, as two sides with clear attacking prowess will go toe-to-toe with a place in the knockout stages on the line. It will not be easy versus a team with obvious European pedigree and with Anfield as a venue having already hosted many exciting nights like this. This will be a real test for Ancelotti and his new-look Napoli but – given the Coach’s personal record in the competition – no-one should be surprised if they do what’s necessary to go through.
The Belgian ace has refused to rule out a possible switch to the Bernabeu and has yet again spoken of his ‘love’ for Los Blancos.
Hazard’s future at Stamford Bridge is still up in the air – his current contract expires in 2020 and the club are yet to agree an extension with their star man.
New manager Maurizio Sarri managed to convince the 27-year-old to stay in the summer, having made hints he wanted to leave after the World Cup, and he has since insisted he will remain at Chelsea for a least another season.
But it has long been rumoured he could finally make the move in the summer.
And Hazard has now revealed talks over a new Blues deal have STOPPED, fuelling reports he is getting ready to join Real.
talkSPORT.com round-up all the latest transfer news and football gossip from Tuesday’s papers and online…
Eden Hazard has again hinted at a move to Real Madrid and says he does not know when he will decide on his future. The Belgian star has also admitted talks over a new Chelsea contract have stopped. (RMC Sport)
Liverpool are reportedly weighing up a move for Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Thorgan Hazard. The 25-year-old Belgian – brother of Chelsea forward Eden – could join the Reds in January. (Liga Financial)
Tottenham and Manchester United are both interested in 20-year-old Romanian forward Dennis Man, who plays for FCSB, the club formerly known as Steaua Bucharest. (The Sun)
Manchester United were recommended Ajax’s starlet duo Frenkie de Jong, 21, and Matthijs de Ligt, 19, before they made their first-team debuts with the Dutch giants. The Premier League club, though, chose not to pursue them, according to the club’s former head of youth recruitment, Derek Langley. (Manchester Evening News)
Fulham boss Claudio Ranieri wants to bring Leicester’s record signing Islam Slimani, 30, to Craven Cottage in January. (Daily Telegraph)
The agent of Wolves’ Portuguese midfielder Ruben Neves is pushing for the 21-year-old to move to Juventus.(Calciomercato)
Newcastle are leading the race to sign 24-year-old Atlanta United striker Miguel Almiron in the January transfer window, according to the players’ father. (Newcastle Chronicle)
Arjen Robben says he will retire if the “ideal offer” does not materialise when his Bayern Munich contract deal ends this summer. (Goal)
Middlesbrough have asked Wolves if they can re-sign Adama Traore on loan in January, four months after letting the 20-year-old forward leave. (Teamtalk)
Leeds and Aston Villa will attempt to sign goalkeeper Karl Darlow next month. The 28-year-old has lost his place at Newcastle and has featured in only one match this season. (The Sun)
Tottenham are facing a further delay to the opening of their new stadium due to difficulties staging test events over the Christmas period. (The Times)
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No asking price is reported, but it is likely to be a huge sum, which may come as a blow to Jurgen Klopp who is thought to have believed Dembele would be available in a cut-price deal due to his behaviour.
Despite questions being raised about Dembele’s attitude over the past couple of months, the France international has been in fine form this season.
He’s scored eight goals in all competitions so far, chipping in with a further five assists, to help Barca top La Liga and qualify for the Champions League knockout stage.