Borussia Dortmund struck three times in the opening 25 minutes to beat hosts VfB Stuttgart 4-0 away on Saturday and protect their four-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
Jadon Sancho put them ahead with a deflected effort in the third minute before Marco Reus launched their attack for the second goal and finished it off with a fine shot in the 23rd.
Spaniard Paco Alcacer continued his spectacular scoring run two minutes later to notch his seventh league goal this season and become the first Bundesliga player to require just 106 minutes of playing time to do so.
Stuttgart, in 17th place, attempted to force their way back into the game early in the second half but quickly ran out of ideas before Dortmund took control again.
Maximilian Philipp completed the rout in the 85th minute to become Dortmund’s 14th scorer in eight league games this season. The Ruhr valley club has also scored 27 goals so far, a club record after eight games.
Dortmund, who earned their fourth straight league win, are on 20 points, four ahead of champions Bayern Munich, who are in second place.
Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar admits he was flattered to be a summer transfer target for Jose Mourinho, but insists he is more than happy at the Nerazzurri in a resurgent Serie A.
The Slovakia international was one of two Italy-based players — along with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly — Mourinho had targeted to strengthen his defence at Manchester United last summer.
With 14 goals conceded in the first eight games of the season, the Red Devils have the joint fourth leakiest defence in the Premier League, inevitably refuelling rumours Mourinho will renew his efforts to sign Skriniar this winter.
The 23-year-old says he is not going to be the man to resolve the Red Devils’ rearguard issues, however.
“When some coach like Jose says that he is looking for a player like me or somebody else, it’s always nice, but I don’t know why these rumours continue,” he told ESPN FC. “I’ve not said anything to anybody, just what you can see on the web.
“Even if Jose is one of the most famous, best, greatest coaches in the world, it’s not something I think of because I’m playing for Inter and am happy here at Inter.
“I’m happy in Milan, it’s a great city, even when my parents or friends come here, we have a look around and I’m happy here and relaxed here. When the results are going well too, it’s all even better.”
Skriniar, whose contract with Inter runs until 2022, is currently enjoying his first taste of Champions League football, with the Nerazzurri heading into a double-header with Barcelona with six points out of six.
And he believes they can look forward to those two games, starting with a trip to the Camp Nou next week, with confidence.
“The Champions League is fantastic — it’s the first time I’ve played in this competition and I’m delighted to be able to play in it with Inter,” Skriniar said. “Our first game was unforgettable because we scored in the 95th minute. I think it was important for the fans also because we were back after so many years and we won the first and also the second game, so it’s great.
“It’s important for us and for Barcelona — we’ve both got six points. Now we go to the Nou Camp and we’ll see. We’ve got to show that we can hold our own against them and play a good game and if we can pick up a few points from these two games, it would be even better.
“I remember [the last-minute winner against Tottenham] really well. As I said, it was important to win the first game in the Champions League.”
That opening victory over Tottenham Hotspur confirmed a resurgence of Italian clubs in Europe, with all four Serie A participants — Inter, Juventus, Roma and Napoli — winning in the same week in the last round of matches.
It was the first time since 2005 that four Italian clubs were triumphant in the Champions League in the same week and it helped Serie A narrow the gap on the Premier League in UEFA’s association club coefficients, confirming the appeal of a league which has been enriched by the high-profile arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo at Juve in the summer.
“I’m not sure which football is the stronger,” Skriniar said. “We’ve beaten Tottenham and also Napoli beat Liverpool. Maybe [English football] is the most famous in the world, but I’m not sure which is the strongest.”
Inter have certainly shown their strength with a six-game winning streak spanning Serie A and the Champions League, and initial doubts raised in the Italian media earlier on this season have been dispersed by a return to form which coincided with that win over Spurs.
“We want to finish as high as we can — definitely in the top four — but I think we can get even higher,” Skriniar said. “We’ve got to take it bit by bit, game by game, point by point, so we’ll see.
“We were playing well before, but we were not winning and not scoring goals, but now — maybe with the Tottenham game, that is when we started playing better and also getting results and this was important.”
BARCELONA — Luis Suarez and Sergi Roberto are fit for Barcelona’s triple-header against Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid this week but they still have problems in the middle of defence.
Samuel Umtiti remains sidelined for the foreseeable future with a knee problem, while Thomas Vermaelen will miss the next six weeks with a hamstring injury picked up on international duty with Belgium.
That leaves coach Ernesto Valverde with Gerard Pique and Clement Lenglet as his only fit centre-backs as Barca prepare for the biggest week of their season so far.
Following four winless games in La Liga, which has seen them relinquish top spot, they return to action on Saturday at home to league leaders Sevilla. Inter are then due at Camp Nou on Wednesday ahead of next Sunday’s Clasico.
“I think Sergi [Roberto] and Suarez will both be available this weekend,” Valverde said in a news conference on Friday.
“But [Umtiti] is still in a recovery process. He needs training to strengthen the muscle, so he has fewer problems [in the future]. We hope he’s back with us soon, but I can’t say when because I am not a doctor.”
Suarez and Roberto have benefitted from the international break. The former didn’t join up with the Uruguay squad, instead staying in Barcelona to work on a knee injury, while the latter returned to training this week from a back problem.
Pique is also free of international duty since retiring in the summer but he has put in more air miles than any other player during the last week. The defender travelled to China to watch the Shanghai Masters and then to Madrid to launch his new revamped version of tennis’ Davis Cup.
His journeys come at a time when Barca are struggling in defence — they have conceded nine goals in eight league games — and have provoked complaints in the local media over his commitment to the club’s cause.
“The issue with Pique, the journeys and all that, it doesn’t worry me,” Valverde said. “The only thing that irritates me about him is that he had a brilliant idea [the Davis Cup] and it didn’t occur to me. That’ s the only thing, other than that, there’s no problem with him. He’s 100 percent.”
With only Pique and Lenglet available in the middle of defence, Valverde has been forced to look for reinforcements elsewhere. He says B team players Chumi and Oriol Busquets are options, while Sergio Busquets could also play there in an emergency.
“The idea is to solve any problems we have inside the dressing room, not outside, and we will keep things that way,” the coach said. “But, yes, I have spoken with Arturo Vidal, of course, but I won’t detail about what. We try to deal with things this way so there’s not so much drama generated, as there has been in the last few weeks.”
LONDON — Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri has said he is “not interested” in the threat that Andreas Christensen could ask for a transfer in January if he does not play more, but added that the defender has a future at Stamford Bridge.
Christensen’s father and agent Sten told Danish television on Friday that his son does not want to leave Chelsea on loan again and will seek a permanent exit if his opportunities do not increase.
Sarri has employed a back four and returned David Luiz to the starting XI alongside Antonio Rudiger, leaving Christensen — who broke into the team at the expense of Luiz under Antonio Conte last season — out.
But speaking in a news conference ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Manchester United on Saturday, the manager said: “The father? I’m not interested… the father? No.
“What can I say? I think that, in the first part of the season, David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger have played really very well, so it’s not easy to change.
“I think, also, that in our last six matches, Christensen has played in three of them. So I think for his father, maybe the Europa League is not important. But for us, it’s important.”
Christensen has voiced frustration at the situation, describing his lack of minutes under Sarri as “very difficult.”
Sarri, however, stressed that he rates the 22-year-old highly and intends to involve him more as the season progresses.
“He is very young,” the Italian added. “I think he has to improve. But I think that he’s a technical defender, so I think he is suitable for me and my way of football. I think that, in the future, he will be available to play very often.”
In an interview with Danish television, Sten Christensen said he did not consider a loan move in the New Year to be a viable option.
“If his situation doesn’t change around Christmas, we’ll obviously schedule a chat with Chelsea and say: ‘OK, what can we do for Andreas? Can we move him?'” he said.
“For me, it’s not a loan again. Either it’s Chelsea or else he needs to leave. I don’t think a loan is the optimal situation for Andreas. It’s sort of either or.
“I think, unfortunately, Chelsea have too many players who just go out on loan if they aren’t going to use them, and I don’t think Andreas should get caught in that.
“I’m of the conviction that we’ll attempt to move Andreas in the winter time [if he is not playing]. Around Christmas, something else needs to happen.”
Christensen has come closer than any Chelsea academy graduate since John Terry to establishing himself as a regular, starting 23 Premier League matches last season at the heart of a back three.
Selling him would be a difficult decision for Chelsea, particularly given that Luiz, keeping him out of the team, is 32 in April and out of contract in June.
Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui has dodged questions over whether he feels supported by the board — leaving the impression that he is aware his job is on the line ahead of next weekend’s La Liga Clasico at Barcelona.
The European champions are without a win or a goal in their last four matches, and there was intense speculation over Lopetegui’s future during the international break.
Lopetegui was asked on four separate occasions at a news conference on Friday whether he had received any private assurances from above that his job was safe.
“I am absolutely relaxed and just focused on my work,” Lopetegui said. “We are just really looking forward to tomorrow’s game. This season is only beginning, nobody knows yet what will happen. We have to show on the pitch what we can do, obviously with some things we can improve.”
Ahead of next weekend’s trip to the Camp Nou, Madrid face Levante at home in La Liga on Saturday before hosting Viktoria Plzen at the Bernabeu in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Lopetegui accepted that the demands for success at Madrid are “maximum” but pointed out that all teams go through dips in form over a season, and there was still more than enough time for he and his side to come through this one and challenge for all major trophies this season.
“I am feeling fine, this is Real Madrid and the demands are maximum,” he said. “There are three points in play tomorrow, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante. There are ups and downs in a season, but we have the ambition and motivation and we must keep on working and keep believing.”
Lopetegui was evasive when asked whether any or all of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema or Isco would return from injury for Saturday’s game, using the fact that the news conference was taking place before Friday’s training session to avoid giving exact fitness updates.
“Some players have had more time to recover and fortunately we have not had any new injuries [during the international break],” he said. “We have more options now. We will see from training, must wait [on Bale] to see how it goes, and make our decision for tomorrow. We are optimistic.”
A local reporter tried to interrupt Lopetegui to clarify a question asked about Toni Kroos saying on international duty with Germany that he was “not a Casemiro.”
“I understood what you were asking,” Lopetegui said. “That Kroos is not Casemiro is obvious, just as Casemiro is not Kroos. They are different players, but Kroos has played many times in this [holding] position, and done marvellously.”
Lopetegui was calmer when asked about Bale’s injury situation — with the Wales international having joined up with his national squad last week but returned to the Bernabeu without playing a game due to an as yet not officially confirmed muscle complaint.
“Gareth has been very responsible,” Lopetegui said. “He did not play with his national team when maybe he could have forced things. So he has a chance to recover and come back tomorrow.”
Lopetegui said that he is unlikely to bring in reinforcements in the winter transfer window.
“The solution is within the players I have,” he said. “I have full confidence in my squad, all the players. I am sure we will play a great season — each competition is still to be decided, there is a long way to go yet. Each season has ups and downs, but I am sure we will arrive strong at the end.
“At the moment we are just focused on tomorrow’s game – against a tough opponent who have won their last two games – not looking any further. There are three points in play, which could bring us top of the table, and we must focus on that. We do not focus on outside things, as that will not help us to defeat Levante.”
European football’s governing body confirmed in a statement on Thursday that an “Ethics and Disciplinary inspector” will assess the behaviour of the French and Serbian giants’ fans before any action is taken over the “reported incidents.”
Despite the closure of the Auteuil stand, where PSG’s ultras gather, as well as a ban on travelling fans from Serbia, an increased security presence could not prevent fighting outside the ground after the match.
UEFA opened its disciplinary proceedings against the two clubs, with both charged — PSG over fireworks being set off and Red Star for offensive chanting.
For the moment, PSG have been hit with a €20,000 fine because of the fixture’s late kickoff and coach Thomas Tuchel has also received an official warning after he contributed towards the delay.
UEFA’s investigation into the reported incidents surrounding the encounter in the French capital is unrelated to another one, this time led by France’s National Financial Prosecutor’s office (PNF), which is examining potential match-fixing within the Red Star hierarchy.
L’Equipe reported last Friday that the Serbian official in question is suspected of betting €5 million, via accomplices, on Red Star to lose by five goals, while UEFA’s ethics and disciplinary angle concerns the use of “fireworks, crowd disturbances, late kick-off and improper conduct of officials” on PSG’s part and “illicit chanting and crowd disturbances” on Red Star’s.
UEFA did not rule out potential future punishment for either of the clubs, so the appointed inspector can and probably will hand down further sanctions.
However, for the moment, Les Parisiens‘ two remaining Champions League Group C games at Parc des Princes will go ahead as normal after the closure of the Auteuil end for the visit of Red Star as punishment for bad crowd behaviour during last season’s round-of-16 defeat to Real Madrid.
In any case, PSG have started to take matters into their own hands by banning season ticket holders who have been identified as part of the issues that marred the Red Star win.
Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk are expected to be available for selection for Liverpool’s trip to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, while Naby Keita looks to be sidelined for around two weeks, sources have told ESPN FC.
Salah and Van Dijk withdrew from their national teams over the international break amid fitness concerns, but trained at Melwood on Thursday afternoon.
Sadio Mane’s availability remains uncertain after he had surgery on the fractured thumb he suffered when away with Senegal and was absent from full Liverpool training on Thursday.
Salah was forced off late in Egypt’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with Swaziland on Saturday because of a groin issue and missed the return fixture three days later.
Van Dijk, meanwhile, has been battling broken ribs for several weeks, according to Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman, and sat out Tuesday’s friendly with Belgium.
James Milner also trained on Thursday, having injured his hamstring in Liverpool’s game with Manchester City over the international break.
Salah and Van Dijk returned to Melwood, where their fitness was assessed by the club’s medical staff, and look set to be fit to feature against Huddersfield, who sit 18th in the Premier League table.
While Jurgen Klopp is expected to be able to call upon two of his most important players on the weekend, he is set to be without Keita for a short period.
Keita sustained the issue while playing on an artificial surface for Guinea in Rwanda on Tuesday.
Huddersfield boss David Wagner, however, believes Klopp, an extremely close friend of his and teammate at Mainz in their playing days, may be overplaying Liverpool’s injury problems.
“I have known Jurgen long enough, I know he loves to use smokescreens,” Wagner told a news conference on Thursday. “I expect that most of his players will be available.
“I have known him long enough and he likes to moan after the international break.”
Liverpool have made a strong start to the campaign with 20 points from eight matches to sit third in the table as one of three unbeaten sides.
Huddersfield’s form is a stark contrast as they seek a first win to potentially climb out of the relegation zone.
Wagner said Saturday’s match represented a chance to build on a 1-1 draw at Burnley last time out.
“Now we have a great opportunity, a wonderful game in front of our fans against a very strong side, where we can hopefully perform at the same level [as our last game]. That’s what we like to do,” Wagner added.
“Every performance gives you belief and every win gives you belief — unfortunately we have no wins so far — but we have performed at a good level consistently over the last weeks and in training the guys look very good as well.
“Sometimes football writes some great stories and nobody knows what is going to happen on Saturday.”
Gonzalo Higuain has said he was “kicked out” of Juventus this summer following the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.
Juventus broke their transfer record to sign Cristiano Ronaldo for €100 million, and Higuain left to join AC Milan soon after.
But, while the Argentine said the signing of the former Manchester United man was the final nail in the coffin, the issues began back in May when he was left out of the starting line-up for the Coppa Italia final.
“Inside me, I had the feeling something had something was broken that day,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport when asked whether things took a downward turn after that final. “Then they signed Ronaldo.
“It wasn’t my decision to leave. I gave everything for Juve. I won many trophies then, after Cristiano arrived, the club wanted to make a jump in quality and they told me that I couldn’t stay and they were trying to find a solution.”
Higuain was Juventus’ record transfer before the arrival of Ronaldo and, in two seasons with the club, won two Serie A and Coppa Italia doubles. But, despite being forced to leave, he said he does not bear the club any ill feelings.
“My feelings are that of affection because they really looked after me,” the 30-year-old said. “Both teammates and fans gave me so much affection.
“But I did not ask to leave. Effectively, everyone says it: they kicked me out. At Milan, I immediately received a lot of love and that is how they convinced me [to join].”
Juventus are to ensure their stadium will be full for the visit of Genoa on Sunday, in spite of a partial closure, by inviting schoolchildren to fill the gaps.
The Bianconeri were ordered to close the Curva Sud after fans in that area of the stadium were heard making racist and territorial discriminatory chants during their win over Napoli.
Their appeal against the closure was rejected, meaning they have now turned to a solution they used in the past to fill the stadium after the Curva was closed by inviting schoolchildren born between 2004 and 2011 to attend for free.
“Juventus are against any form of social and territorial discrimination, racism, xenophobia and violence,” a statement on the Serie A champions’ website read. “The one against discrimination is a commitment that sees Juventus amongst the forerunners that also look to involve local communities.
“Following the closure of the Curva Sud decided by the Giudice Sportivo for Saturday’s match against Genoa, the Allianz Stadium will instead host the children belonging to the amateur clubs of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta, born between 2004 and 2011.
“The initiative, which was well received from the FIGC [Italian FA] is called ‘Gioca con me… tifa con me‘ [Play with me…cheer with me], that falls within the Juventus programmes against racism, alongside the projects: ‘Colour? What Colour?’ created with UNESCO, ‘A kick to racism’ and ‘Gioca con me‘, developed in collaboration with the UNESCO centre of Turin.
“Their objectives are to rediscover the passion for sport and to create a sporting spirit that is also used as an example for future generations.”
Juve launched the same initiative in 2013, when both the Curva Sud and the Curva Nord were closed.
However, it backfired with many of the children copying their peers by making similar discriminatory chants in the 1-0 win over Udinese, leading to further sanctions.
“He should be fine, it’s just he wasn’t 100 percent,” Martinez said. “He’s got an important game at the weekend and this wasn’t the game to use players who weren’t 100 percent.
“We expect he should be fine in the next couple of days.”
However, United are likely to head to Chelsea on Saturday without Lingard. The 25-year-old missed England’s UEFA Nations League games against Croatia and Spain during the international break because of a groin injury.
He has been receiving treatment at Carrington in a bid to get him ready to face Chelsea but on Tuesday posted an update on social media.
“Back on the pitch soon,” he said. “My injury will take time but I’ll be back stronger than ever.”
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane has undergone an operation after breaking his left thumb while on international duty with Senegal.
Mane returned to Liverpool early after breaking the thumb during Senegal’s 3-0 win over Sudan on Saturday and underwent surgery on Wednesday.
“The surgery, conducted at a northwest hospital and supervised by club medics, was successful,” Liverpool said in a statement.
Mane was one of four Liverpool players to give Jurgen Klopp an injury scare over the international break.
Mohamed Salah (groin) and Virgil van Dijk (ribs) withdrew from their national teams early, and Naby Keita suffered a muscular injury during Guinea’s African Nations Cup qualifier with Rwanda on Tuesday.
Real Madrid have written a letter to the Spanish football federation (RFEF) expressing their opposition to La Liga’s plans to stage a game between Girona and Barcelona in the United States in January.
The game, which would take place in suburban Miami, would be the first regular-season game held overseas as part of a 15-year marketing agreement struck between La Liga and Relevent Sports with the aim of promoting the league in North America.
The RFEF and the Spanish players’ union oppose the plan to move the game, scheduled for Girona’s Estadi Montilivi on Jan. 26, to Hard Rock Stadium. FIFA president Gianni Infantino has also said he does not support the idea.
“First of all, we would like to declare that Real Madrid were never informed that La Liga had requested to play the game, nor of the intention to make the request, and we were never asked our opinion on it,” Madrid wrote in the letter, which was signed by Jose Angel Sanchez, the club’s general director.
“Nor, obviously, did La Liga obtain Real Madrid’s agreement, despite the fact that this game affects a competition in which we participate.”
A spokesman for La Liga told Reuters on Wednesday that no club would be forced to play in the United States and that the decision to do so is voluntary.
The RFEF has told the league it cannot approve the proposal, which also requires support from UEFA, CONCACAF and U.S. Soccer, until it receives more information.
Madrid president Florentino Perez has also spoken out against it, and coach Julen Lopetegui has said “every [La Liga] team should play at every ground.”
Madrid addressed the same concerns in the letter, which was first published by Cadena Ser and also included a list of objections to La Liga’s current marketing strategy and television broadcasts in the U.S.
“We cannot forget that the national league is a competition in which 20 teams participate, not two, and that it is fundamental that every team plays each other twice, home and away and at each stadium, as that guarantees the integrity and the equality of the competition,” the club wrote.
“As a consequence, Real Madrid expresses its opposition to the request made to play the game at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami as it affects the integrity and equality of the competition.”
La Liga president Javier Tebas told Reuters earlier this month there were many things that could threaten the integrity of a competition but the Miami game was not one of them.
“In a World Cup, a team playing a … semifinal on Tuesday has a greater advantage in the final than the team playing on Wednesday,” Tebas said.
“Teams have also played at other stadiums while their grounds are being renovated or in order to generate more revenue. If we really believe in this sporting puritanism, then we would need to make many changes in football.”
Real Madrid will not allow Vinicius Jr. to join Brazil’s under-20 side for the South American Youth Championship in Chile in January and February, according to U20s coach Carlos Amadeu.
The tournament does not fit into a FIFA international window and thus clubs are not forced to free players for their national teams.
“Real Madrid has already made it very clear to us that the players that are part of the squad will not be released for the South American tournament but they will be for the [FIFA U-20] World Cup,” Amadeu told Globo Esporte. “That’s the stance.”
Vinicius, 18, joined up with Brazil’s U20 team last week and started but did not score in their two friendly draws against Chile.
He is hopeful Madrid will reconsider their decision and allow him to return to compete in the tournament.
“We all know it’s very difficult, right, because it is not a FIFA date, and the club is not obliged to release [players],” Vinicius said. “But we are trying not only for myself but for all the players to play the South American [tournament] and play for the national team.”
Four teams will qualify for the FIFA U-20 World Cup, which starts in May and will be held in Poland, from the South American Youth Championship.
He made four first-team appearances in preseason but has made just two league appearances for Madrid, both as a substitute, and has spent time playing for Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s reserve side.
John Terry is keen to follow former England teammates Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard into management but says he will need a few years to learn the ropes after accepting a coaching role at Aston Villa.
The former Chelsea and England skipper called time on his playing career earlier this month and has been named assistant to new Villa boss Dean Smith.
“I have aspirations to be a manager one day,” the 37-year-old Terry told the BBC. “But that is in four or five years — I’m nowhere near the finished article.
“I am still building my ideas and my philosophy.”
While Terry is keen to take on a top job one day, he says he was stunned at the work that goes in behind the scenes.
“Even my first day was a real eye-opener for me — as a player you don’t realise the depth and the amount of work that goes on,” Terry added.
Villa, who sit 15th in the Championship, host Swansea City on Saturday.
The father of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany was elected as the first black mayor in Belgium after winning support in a Brussels commune.
Pierre Kompany, 71, is a mechanical engineer who was born in Congo and serves in the Brussels Regional Parliament. He ran for election in Ganshoren as a non-partisan candidate on a platform dedicated to cleaning up the environment and won 28.38 percent of the vote in results tallied on Sunday.
“Just for the guys abroad, he’s the first black mayor in Belgium,” Vincent Kompany said in a video he posted on Instagram. “It’s never happened before. It’s historic. We’re all happy. Congratulations to my dad.”
Pierre Kompany moved to Belgium as a refugee in 1975 and began his political career in 2006, serving as a councillor before being elected to the Brussels parliament in 2014. His party will form a coalition with two others to govern the town of about 25,000 people.
His elder son, Vincent, 32, joined City in 2008 and was appointed captain three years later, and his younger son, Francois, 29, plays for Roeselare in Belgium.
Two days before the election, Vincent Kompany bemoaned the “very little multiculturality in our dear government” and “a non-existent diversity at all levels of power in Belgium” in a post on Twitter.
Lukaku will come up against the Italian champions next week when United host Juventus in the Champions League.
It means a return to Old Trafford for Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time since 2013. Juventus and United sit first and second in Group H after two games.
“They [Juventus] have a big project and they never stop,” Lukaku said.
“Each year, they look to get better. Without doubt they are one of the two or three best sides. They’ve got a great coach on the bench and extraordinary players all over the field.
“Cristiano is their best player, but look out for the others: [Paulo] Dybala is already really good and he’s getting better, while I love Douglas Costa.
“It’s a tough group, but United want to finish top of it.”
United host Juventus on Oct. 23 having drawn 0-0 with Valencia last time out in the Champions League. Ronaldo is eligible for the trip to Old Trafford after he served a one-match ban following a red card on his Champions League debut for Juve.
Lukaku, meanwhile, has scored four league goals for United this season, the last strike coming against Watford in a 2-1 win on Sept. 15. The Belgium international’s contract at the club runs until 2022.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola could see himself coaching in Serie A in the future.
Guardiola, who extended his contract with City through the end of the 2020-21 season in May, played for both Brescia and Roma in Serie A and was in Italy over the weekend to participate in the Festival dello Sport, where he was asked whether he could imagine returning as a coach one day.
“Why not?” he said as part of a podium discussion with Arrigo Sacchi and Carlo Ancelotti. “After my experience at Barcelona, who would have thought I’d go to [Bayern] Munich and Germany? Yet that happened.
“I overcame the arduous challenge of learning German, so everything is possible. I’ve coached in Spain, in Germany and now in England, so why couldn’t I coach in Italy? I don’t know what the future holds for me, but the food’s good here.”
Guardiola, who guided City to the Premier League title last season, ended his playing career in 2006. After coaching Barca for four seasons beginning in 2008-09, winning La Liga three times and the Champions League twice, he joined Bayern in 2013.
He won the Bundesliga in each of his three seasons with Bayern and made three Champions League semifinal appearances, then was appointed at City in 2016.
Guardiola later told reporters that his Brescia and Roma days made him feel at home in Italy, which is why a longer stay than just a weekend appeals to him.
“I come to Italy often, when I can, because I love this country,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends here. The Catalans and Spaniards are very similar to the people here — it’s a nice life, there’s the sun, and we like to enjoy or lives.”
Luka Modric has told France Football he and his Real Madrid teammates did not expect Cristiano Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane to leave the club last summer.
Ronaldo ended a nine-year association with the European champions by joining Juventus while Zidane stepped down from his role as coach after masterminding a third successive UEFA Champions League triumph — and Modric said the two pieces of news came as a shock to the Madrid dressing room.
“I didn’t expect it for either of them [to leave],” Modric told France Football. “I didn’t think Zidane was going to leave, same thing for Ronaldo.
“Actually, when the rumour about Cristiano came out, we made bets between us in the dressing room and we were convinced that he would stay in the end. But everyone makes their own choices in life.”
Modric has just started his seventh season in the Spanish capital following his 2012 switch from Tottenham Hotspur.
The 33-year-old will be hard pushed to emulate the success of his past 12 months in which he played a central role in Madrid’s 13th continental crown before underpinning his country’s run to the FIFA World Cup final and winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
After picking up FIFA’s The Best award last month, he is now among the frontrunners to end the decade-long stranglehold Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had on the Ballon d’Or when the winner is revealed in December. But the 33-year-old is refusing to let himself get carried away.
“Truth be told, I don’t like that way of talking and saying: ‘Yes, it’s me who deserves the Ballon d’Or’,” he said. “The important thing for me is to be on the pitch as I have been for months now.
“This year, 2018, has undoubtedly been the best of my career and my only objective is to keep going on this path, on this trajectory. You’re not going to get me to say: ‘It’s me who should win it.’ That is up to the experts who vote. It’s in their hands.”
While Modric is many people’s favourite to win the Ballon d’Or, another nominee, Kylian Mbappe, is the overwhelming pick to claim the inaugural Kopa Trophy awarded to the planet’s best Under-21 player.
Despite having witnessed the 19-year-old French forward end his World Cup dreams in Russia last summer as he helped Les Bleus to a 4-2 victory in the final, Modric remains a fan of the Paris Saint-Germain forward.
“Mbappe is an extraordinary talent, a magnificent promise for the future,” Modric said. “But someone who is already at a great level.
“He’s really very special. I remember my international teammate, Danijel Subasic, said to me one day: ‘There’s a young player at Monaco, you’ll see, he’s incredible, and one day he’ll be one of the best in the world.’
“He was talking to me about Mbappe before he was known about. I’m sure Kylian is going to keep improving.”
Ruben Loftus-Cheek could leave Chelsea on loan in January but will not be sold, sources have told ESPN FC.
Having played just 33 minutes in the Premier League so far this season, Loftus-Cheek is frustrated at his lack of opportunities under Maurizio Sarri and has reportedly attracted interest from Arsenal, Everton and Crystal Palace, the club who helped him develop on loan last season.
But while all parties accept that another temporary move could be best for Loftus-Cheek’s development if his situation does not improve, the midfielder does not expect to leave on a permanent deal and Chelsea remain opposed to selling one of their brightest academy graduates.
Sarri has been vocal about Loftus-Cheek’s need to improve tactically if he wants to see off competition from N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley for an advanced midfield role in the starting XI, and the Italian is also looking for a greater goal threat from behind his front three.
Barkley staked his claim to be the answer by capping an impressive performance with a goal and an assist in Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Southampton prior to the October international break, at the end of a week that saw him recalled to the England squad as Loftus-Cheek missed out.
Sarri wanted to give Loftus-Cheek a chance to impress in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the Carabao Cup third round in September, but a badly-timed foot injury sidelined the 22-year-old just as Cesc Fabregas made his return to full fitness to further increase competition for places in midfield.
Chelsea will play seven matches in 22 days across all competitions after the international break, and Loftus-Cheek’s level of involvement is likely to determine whether or not he feels he has a role to play under Sarri this season.
Loftus-Cheek’s contract at Stamford Bridge runs until June 2021, and Chelsea often commit their most valuable fringe players to long-term extensions before loaning them out in order to preserve their value.
It is not clear how open Loftus-Cheek would be to signing a new deal as long as his first-team future at Chelsea remains uncertain.