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    Rúben Amorim to Liverpool? and Arsenal striker targets

    This article was originally published on the Daily Briefing, a subscription service. If you would like to receive Ben Jacobs’ exclusive transfer columns via email ahead of publication on caughtoffside.com, please sign-up for the service here: thedailybriefing.io.

    Hughes is able to play a leading role in finding Klopp’s replacement even though he doesn’t officially start until 1 June. This was agreed with Bournemouth, who Liverpool have an excellent relationship with.

    Ruben Amorim is a leading contender after Xabi Alonso confirmed he is staying at Bayer Leverkusen. And like Amorim, Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi also scored quite highly when Liverpool used data to create a longlist of options. They are now working out who makes the final shortlist.

    De Zerbi hasn’t been approached to date and is not necessarily favourite at this point. That’s not really how Liverpool work either. They will be thorough and keep an open mind rather than being reliant on any one candidate before they have completed their process. This is the sign of a well-run club, as is how discreet they are at handling these type of situations.

    It’s true that Hughes is a De Zerbi admirer, and identified him as a possible replacement for Scott Parker when he left Bournemouth, but nothing progressed due to issues with his Shakhtar contract at the time. Bayern are also discussing the Brighton boss, who has a release clause in his current contract.

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    Will Roberto De Zerbi replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool?

    I don’t think anything is certain yet with Liverpool since they are only starting to narrow down the list of names now with a view to finalising someone before the season ends. That makes this month important.

    Liverpool have also discussed Inter’s Simone Inzaghi, but the Serie A side want him to sign a new deal. Bologna’s Thiago Motta, who is doing an excellent job, and Germany manager Julian Nagelsmann have also been spoken about internally.

    Liverpool are calm about their search and will very much carry it out on their own terms. Once they have a manager locked in, when they choose to announce it will also depend on the manager and their club and, as importantly, Klopp. The club plan to finalise Klopp’s replacement before the season ends, but a public announcement will be timed so as not to overshadow Klopp’s farewell or disrupt a season where Liverpool are still fighting on three fronts.

    However, Sporting expect Gyökeres’s €100m release clause to be triggered, or bettered for a more preferable deal structure. That’s quite challenging for Arsenal, even with the money of Champions League football next season. That said, Eddie Nketiah could bring in some money despite being valued as a squad player. Wolves and Crystal Palace retain an interest.

    Arsenal are also looking at RB Leipzig’s Benjamin Sesko and Brighton’s Evan Ferguson, and could face competition from both Chelsea and Manchester United. And Bologna’s in-form Joshua Zirkzee has also been discussed internally – a player AC Milan are tracking too.

    Arsenal have been long-linked with Brentford’s Ivan Toney, but I don’t think he’s now necessarily top of their list of targets, partly due to age and cost. It’s the same with Chelsea as well and has been for quite some time, and that might be good news for Manchester United.

    It will be interesting to see if Toney is sold this summer or waits for free agency in 2025. That might be more tempting for one or two Premier League clubs, including Arsenal.

    I expect Arsenal to prioritise a striker, and put much of their summer budget towards one. That will make landing Wolves’ Pedro Neto in addition difficult given Wolves want around £80m.

    However, keep an eye on Sociedad’s Martin Zubimendi, who is a long-standing Arsenal target. Zubimendi was fully committed to Sociedad in January. He loves it at the club, but at 25, this summer could be the right time to move. I don’t think he will be routine to land or cheap but the advantage is Zubimendi does have a €60m release clause if Arsenal really want to proceed. Sources indicate any starting point will be lower than this, though, if they move. Douglas Luiz is another midfield option but I expect him to stay at Aston Villa if they qualify for the Champions League.

    It’s clear Arsenal need a few outgoings if they want to get a top striker and strengthen elsewhere, even though there are no imminent fears about profit and sustainability rules breaches at the club. The challenge in the inflated transfer market is every club with a couple of big summer windows, however well run, has to start thinking carefully about their finances.

    Wilcox has now resigned and has a 12-month notice period, but Manchester United are still hopeful of agreeing a package to get him sooner.

    A formal offer of one year’s salary in compensation was made, which United felt was fair given Wilcox has only been at Southampton for nine months. But Southampton are upset because they not only want well in excess of this (perhaps closer to two-years salary), but they argue Man United agreed to pay more prior to being given permission to approach Wilcox, only to then offer lower than they had committed to in writing.

    It’s still possible the parties reach an amicable agreement rather than Manchester United having to wait. Plus, we’re not talking millions. Even two-years salary for Wilcox wouldn’t be an astronomical number in football terms. Manchester United, for their part, insist they made their approach respectfully following due process.

    It’s also not true Liverpool ever made an offer for Wilcox. They are instead really close to appointing Benfica’s technical director Pedro Marques.

    As for Ashworth, Manchester United are no closer to reaching an agreement but it’s still seen as a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ a deal is reached.

    Things probably won’t be resolved until Newcastle line up Ashworth’s replacement. It could be sorted this month, but Manchester United don’t want to pay £20m to get Ashworth starting this summer. Sources have always been clear they are prepared to wait. The priority, however, is to have him begin at worst in time for the January 2025 window and ideally on 1 September. It will be easier to negotiate with Newcastle once they have a replacement in mind since they won’t want a situation where they are paying that person plus Ashworth for a prolonged period of time.

    Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with ten-man Burnley was so disappointing. It’s yet another game where Chelsea have thrown away points and put in an indifferent second-half showing.

    If only second halves are considered, even though that’s a bit of a frivolous metric, then Chelsea would actually be 18th this season.

    One worry is also how many goals Chelsea are conceding. It’s now five straight games in all competitions where they have let in two goals.

    Nonetheless, the plan remains for Pochettino to be judged at the end of the season. This was agreed even before a ball was kicked since it marks the halfway point of the Argentine’s two-year guaranteed contract.

    There will always be pressure at a club like Chelsea, but Pochettino’s fate is still not pre-determined, and what helps his cause is Chelsea’s FA Cup semi-final, and the chance to qualify for the Europa League through the tournament.

    The bad news is of course that they face Manchester City at Wembley, but Chelsea have gone toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola’s side this season in both league games in two of their best performances of the season.

    Mauricio Pochettino is under pressure at Chelsea

    We hear a lot of names linked with replacing Pochettino, particularly Roberto De Zerbi, Ruben Amorim and Hansi Flick; whilst some fans are dreaming of a Jose Mourinho or Thomas Tuchel return, although it’s not thought either are being considered despite the obvious short-term PR win.

    No candidate is actually being seriously pursued to date, and Chelsea sources insist in particular that De Zerbi is not on the radar as it stands.

    Chelsea are merely succession planning, much like Manchester United. This is normal when a change might be necessary and is something the club likely started on day one of Pochettino arriving given his contract is short.

    Succession planning should not be confused with formally interviewing others or starting to replace Pochettino. You can both look at options to avoid managerial limbo and still want to make it work with your manager, and that’s kind of where Chelsea are at.

    There is obviously a chance a change is necessary if results don’t improve, but Chelsea’s owners don’t want to do anything rash due to a belief that all manner of factors have led to a disappointing season to date, ranging from the young squad to injuries. Plus, right now, there is still hope the season can be turned around. This was stressed by co-owner and chairman Todd Boehly in a rare interview with Forbes.

    “We just need to let the process develop and give [our squad] the time to go from being unbelievable individual players with great skills to fold into a team,” said Boehly.

    “The good news is people care so much. And the bad news is people care so much. That leads to times when they’re frustrated with the team and the owners. I get that, but we just have to continue to stay the course.”

    The draw with Burnley, though, surely now rules out a top six finish, even though that’s been a distant hope for some time anyway. And it makes the FA Cup a huge priority if Chelsea are to salvage something this season.

    Boehly will know all too well that ‘staying on course’ is not just about maintaining a staunch belief in Chelsea’s long-term project, and Stamford Bridge leadership certainly think their approach will eventually pay off. It also requires getting some short-term success, remaining financially stable (and qualifying for Europe helps that) and keeping the fanbase on side.

     

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