Chelsea are in search of a striker in the January transfer window and Blues coach Antonio Conte has already made his wish clear to owner Roman Abramovich: sign Swansea City’s Spanish striker Fernando Llorente.
While Diego Costa is on fire so far this season and is currently the top scorer in the Premier League with 13 goals in 17 league games (one more than Arsenal's Alexis Sánchez), the Brazilian-born Spain forward does not have a natural replacement in the squad.
The West London club made a big payout this summer for Michy Batshuayi (€40 million) from Marseille, but the young Belgian is not performing as expected, finding the net just once in 11 matches.
Llorente-Conte Juve link
That's why Antonio Conte now wants to bring in an experienced forward like Fernando Llorente. The 31-year old Spaniard is very familiar with the Italian manager after spending two seasons under his command at Juventus, and Conte knows perfectly well what he is capable of. In Turin, Llorente scored 27 goals in 92 games when he was fighting it out for the number nine shirt with Álvaro Morata.
6 goals in 15 games at Swansea
Llorente arrived at Swansea in August on a two-year deal after signing for an undisclosed fee from Sevilla. Although the Swans have struggled, finding themselves mired in a relegation battle that led to American boss Bob Bradley dismissal last weekend, the former Athletic Bilbao striker has still managed to score 6 goals in 15 games.
If Chelsea do go for Llorente, he would make a great reinforcement for the Premier League leaders and provide much-needed competition for Diego Costa.
Cristiano Ronaldo snubs huge Chinese offer
ust hours after Carlos Tevez became the most expensive addition to the plethora of big names moving to China on huge contracts, Cristiano Ronaldo became subject of an astronomical offer for a move east.
Just like Real Madrid teammate Pepe, the winger is wanted by the Chinese Super League with an unnamed team keen on signing the player who's only just put pen to paper a new deal in the Spanish capital.
Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, has remarked of a 200 million euro offer to Real Madrid, which has been rejected, in addition to a promised 100m euro salary for the Portugal captain.
The forward's primary sponsor, Nike, is also believed to be interested in the transfer as it would allow them to make Ronaldo the best possible front for their advertising campaign in the lucrative Far Eastern market.
"Money's not everything, Real Madrid is his club for life," Mendes told Sky Sports regarding the bid, making clear that such a move is of no interest to his client, although its existence would be another stamp of intention from the Super League that is doing everything to live up to its name in recent years.
Messi named world's best playmaker for 2016
Lionel Messi has been voted the best playmaker in the world for 2016 earlier on Thursday, after the IFFHS made its results public.
According to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), the Argentine collected 172 points, four more than last year, finishing ahead of Andres Iniesta, second in the ranking with 66 points and Toni Kross, third with 45 points.
The top 10, according to votes collected in 56 countries, is as follows:
- Messi (Barcelona) 172 puntos
- Iniesta (Barcelona) 66
- Kroos (Real Madrid) 45
- Özil (Arsenal) 39
- Mahrez (Leicester) 36
- Modric (Real Madrid) 36
- De Bruyne (Manchester City) 31
- Pogba (Manchester United) 26
- Hazard (Chelsea) 14
- Payet (West Ham) 8
The following years were dominated by Xavi and Iniesta, while Kroos was the best in 2014.
The Klopp and Pep show is perfect year-end treat
It is the perfect year-ending treat: Liverpool versus Manchester City, two Premier League title challengers brimful of attacking, pass-and-move brio and full of goals duelling at high pace at one of England's noisiest and most storied venues.
"If I wasn't sitting on the bench, I would buy a ticket!" boomed Juergen Klopp with a smile on Thursday as he pondered Anfield's blockbusting prelude to the New Year's Eve celebrations on Saturday.
In pursuit of Chelsea, who have been making serene, faultless progress, second-placed Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's City may feel this is a match they simply must win.
A draw would not be much use to either with the prospect of Chelsea, who should make it 13 wins in a row against Stoke City earlier in the afternoon, ending the year eight points clear of Liverpool and nine ahead of City.
It is not a slight on Antonio Conte's leaders to suggest Liverpool and City are, on their day, the most dazzling teams in the division but their problem remains that no-one can be confident when that day will be.
Will we see the Liverpool who eviscerated Stoke City 4-1 to chill the bones of a very cold-looking, flat-capped but suitably impressed Guardiola at Anfield on Monday?
Or the Liverpool who looked as if they couldn't defend to save their lives as they twice surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 4-3 at humble Bournemouth earlier in the month.
Likewise, will it be the crisp Guardiola machine that made his old Barcelona charges look lost at the Etihad in the Champions League? Or the hapless, strangely dispirited bunch who were crushed at struggling Leicester City recently.
"There are a lot of games to come but it is the most important game I can imagine against an outstanding, strong team," Klopp conceded.
"The advantage is that it's at Anfield. We must try to use this. It will be really difficult for both teams but I'm really looking forward to it. We love playing against the best.
"This is a very big game for both of us. Six clubs fight for four positions or one position. Each game is kind of a final."
For the moment, these sides remain two thrilling but inconsistent works in progress, the heaviest scorers in the league with 84 goals -- Liverpool 45, City 39 -- between them.
Yet a win on Saturday would mean a fourth league victory in succession for one of them, offering crucial momentum to propel them into the New Year.
It is also the renewal of a personal duel between two of the game's finest coaches who have brought their respectful rivalry from the Bundesliga where Klopp's Borussia Dortmund never could unseat Guardiola's magisterial Bayern Munich.
Who is the pressure on most? Well, Klopp has been an unqualified success on Merseyside, a motivational, magnetic man of the people who perfectly reflects Anfield's passion.
Guardiola, in contrast, is a cauldron of intensity, offering a surprising air of uncertainty and self-questioning that emerged following his stellar 10-win start to his Etihad reign.
He still does not seem wholly at ease with his frantic new world and this has the feel of another important step in his managerial development in England.
Klopp is a fan. "Maybe Johan Cryuff started it, but Guardiola perfected it at Barcelona," he said. "He's a really influential manager with clear ideas. Fantastic career."
The good news for Guardiola is the return from suspension of Sergio Aguero at a time when Liverpool can ill afford to be without their injured Cameroon defender Joel Matip.
Yet City's own rearguard hardly radiates stability, especially if Liverpool's attacking, even without Philippe Coutinho, is at its kaleidoscopic best.
"The game is on the 31st," Klopp said after the Stoke win. "Whatever I say, we cannot win it now but maybe I could say a few things that could make it more difficult. It is probably best I shut my mouth!"
He is happy simply to let Anfield make the noise.
Chelsea have two options if Courtois goes to Madrid
With the risk of Real Madrid wanting to make a move for the Belgian keeper, Chelsea are examining the possibility of bringing one of two options: Hart or Oblak.
Chelsea continue to scour the market for a new goalkeeper, with the possibility that they will lose Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid next summer. As previously reported in AS, the Spanish giants are keen on the Belgian goalie, who has been reticent to sign a new deal with the London club.
Chelsea drawing up short-list of potential keepers
Given the situation, Chelsea have started drawing up a short-list of possible targets to substitute Courtois. The first name to appear, yesterday, was Jan Oblak, currently at Atlético Madrid under the orders of Simeone. And today another possibility appeared: Joe Hart.
The English keeper, currently on loan at Torino from Manchester City, would apparently be the first choice for Conte's side, according to sources in the UK, ahead of Oblak.
Hart not keen on returning to City
Hart for his part doesn't want to go back to City, upset as he is over his treatment at the hands of Guardiola, and the English club would be willing to sell him. That said, they would need convincing to move him on to another Premier League club, as they don't like the idea of bolstering one of their direct rivals.
Chelsea though would be willing to pay the nearly 12 million euros the deal would cost, plus the 141,000 euros the keeper takes home each week. But Conte will have competition: Liverpool and Tottenham are also said to both be willing to meet these demands.
Will Chelsea fight Real Madrid for Courtois
But whether Chelsea need to enter the market depends on whether Real Madrid do decide to swoop for Courtois, and if they do whether Roman Abramovich would then decide to make it difficult for Zidane and co to make off with a player the Russian rates very highly.