Hojbjerg is Mourinho's midfield general at high-flying Spurs

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has passed more than any other Premier League midfielder and sits fourth in tackles going into this weekend’s games… his arrival went under the radar but the £20m man is Jose Mourinho’s midfield general at high-flying Tottenham

  • Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg joined Tottenham in a £20million deal from Southampton
  • The 25-year-old has been an ever-present in the Premier League for Tottenham
  • Hojbjerg has been integral to Spurs’ stunning start to the campaign so far
  • Jose Mourinho will be hoping his summer signing can continue that at Chelsea 

‘What was very important for me was that I wanted to play at a club where I could see myself for many years, and Tottenham was just the one’, he said.

‘I’m very proud, very happy, excited. I think there is a fantastic future ahead for the club, and I wanted so much to be a part of that.

‘Spurs has fantastic players, fantastic manager, a fantastic set-up.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has slotted in brilliantly since joining Tottenham from Southampton

Hojbjerg moved to north London in a £20m deal in August and it’s proved an excellent decision

‘I feel lucky and proud to be a part of it, and I want to give my everything, but I also want to learn a lot, to push for the next step, but still keeping that consistency.’

Those are the words of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg upon signing for Tottenham Hotspur on August 11.

Fast forward three-and-a-half months to today and Spurs’ summer signing looks like he’s been at the club for years as he continues to take several steps forward.

Hojbjerg joined the north London outfit in a £20million transfer from Southampton. Despite being the club’s first signing of the summer window, the midfielder’s arrival was overshadowed by Tottenham’s later acquisitions – none more so than the return of Gareth Bale on loan from Real Madrid.

Hojbjerg may have been a signing that didn’t create much fanfare among Tottenham supporters, but they already know his worth under their manager Jose Mourinho.

The 25-year-old has started all nine of Tottenham’s Premier League games this season and it’s no coincidence that they sit top of the table on 20 points – level with reigning champions Liverpool but with a plus-seven greater goal difference.

The midfielder has started all nine Premier League games for high-flying Spurs this season

Playing at the base of Spurs’ midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Denmark international has been brilliant in the double-pivot role this season.

Out of Mourinho’s central midfield options he has been the standout player.

Only Tanguy Ndombele has also featured in all nine games this season, but the Frenchman has been used twice off the bench.

In terms of his main skillset it’s unsurprising that Hojbjerg leads his team-mates (Ndombele, Moussa Sissoko, Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Winks) in the defensive statistics.

Nobody has made more tackles (27) than the Dane or made more recoveries (64). The caveat should be, of course, that he has played more minutes (810) than anyone else. However, the drop off between him and Sissoko is striking considering the latter has played the second most minutes (573). The Frenchman has made 35 recoveries – 29 fewer than Hojbjerg – and made 12 tackles – 17 less in this category.

He has made 27 tackles in the league this season – the most out of Spurs’ central midfielders

In terms of duel success, Hojbjerg has won 48.6 per cent of his encounters. Only Winks (50 per cent) has a higher percentage but he has featured just four times in the top flight this season and played 257 minutes. Therefore, this can boost his average.

In an attacking sense, the Tottenham No 5’s game is equally impressive. He and Ndombele are the only two central midfielders to provide an assist (one each) while nobody has made more passes than the former (695). Ndombele is the nearest at 281 passes – highlighting the amount of phases that go through Hojbjerg.

In terms of passing accuracy too, the midfielder tops this category with 89.06 per cent pass completion. In fact, in his five seasons in the Premier League (including his spell at Southampton) this is Hojbjerg’s best season for this statistic. He’s also enjoying career highs in terms of average number of passes (77.2) and tackles (3.2) per game.

The above highlights Hojbjerg’s influence on Tottenham but it’s how his role has modified in England’s top flight which is the most eye-catching. 

The 25-year-old Dane is in possession a lot more now than when he was at Southampton (right)

Under Mourinho he has become more of a ball player than when he was at Southampton. His first season at Southampton (2016-17 season) yielded an average of 69.4 passes per 90 minutes and that is the closest figure to his current career high. Again this should be caveated by the fact that Tottenham tend to have more possession in games than Southampton do.

But you don’t have to just compare Hojbjerg’s numbers against his own or his Tottenham team-mates’ to note his improvement.

Before this weekend’s action (November 27-30) no Premier League midfielder has made more passes (695) or completed more (619) than the 25-year-old this season so far. Manchester City’s Rodri is second in both statistics (644 passes and 586 completed).

In terms of touches, Hojbjerg is the chief manipulator of a ball (806 touches). Leicester City star Youri Tielemans is second in this list but has touched the ball 71 times fewer (738).

When comparing defensive efforts only Everton midfielder Allan (35) and ex-Southampton team-mate Oriol Romeu (33) have made more tackles. 

No Premier League midfielder has had more touches of a ball than Hojbjerg (806) this season

Hojbjerg is joint-sixth in terms of recoveries – a list that is headed up Rodri and Leeds’ Stuart Dallas (75 each), with Dallas’ figures boosted by the fact he can also play in defence for Marcelo Bielsa’s side.

Relating to clearances and duels won, Hojbjerg is also in the top 10 – emphasising his all-action impact at Spurs.

Hojbjerg is Mourinho’s midfield general and was excellent in their 2-0 statement win over title rivals Manchester City on November 21.

A picture of Mourinho at full-time passionately growling at his midfielder was soon picked up by the club’s social media account. Hojbjerg duly quote-tweeted it with the message ‘beast mode’.

The Dane has certainly been that as the Spurs go marching on. They’ll be hoping that form continues on Sunday at bitter rivals Chelsea.

After beating Manchester City, Jose Mourinho passionately growled at his midfield general

Hojbjerg will be hoping to celebrate at full-time on Sunday when Spurs travel to rivals Chelsea

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Is Brighton vs Liverpool on TV today? Kick-off time, channel and how to watch Premier League fixture

Jurgen Klopp’s side suffered defeat against Atalanta

When is it and how can I watch it?

The match will begin at 12.30pm at the Amex Stadium on 28 November.

How can I watch it online and on TV?

The game will be broadcast live on BT Sport 1, with coverage beginning at 11.30am.

Official line-ups

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, White, Webster, Dunk, Veltman, Bissouma, Gross, March, Welbeck, Maupay, Connolly

Liverpool: Alisson, N. Williams, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson, Milner, Wijnaldum, Minamino, Jota, Salah, Firmino.

What are the odds?

Brighton – 9/2

Draw – 10/3

Liverpool – 3/5


Although Liverpool were offbeat in midweek, and while Brighton will also provide stern opposition, the Reds should respond in strong fashion and maintain their position in the title race. Brighton 0-3 Liverpool

This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League. Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.

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Atalanta loss is no crisis but Klopp has items to fix for December run

Mane misfires, Origi and Tsimikas flop, Minamino is unfancied and Liverpool’s patched-up defenders face MORE minutes in a brutal December… defeat by Atalanta is no crisis for Jurgen Klopp, but he has plenty to fix after a dreadful Anfield display

  • Liverpool slumped to a shock 2-0 defeat by Atalanta in the Champions League
  • Jurgen Klopp’s fringe players failed to impress as they tried to get more minutes 
  • If Liverpool had won, they’d have sealed a last-16 place with two games left to go
  • Instead, they now face Ajax on Tuesday to kick-start a bumper December run 

The alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing but after crumbling to a 2-0 defeat by Atalanta in the Champions League on Wednesday night, Jurgen Klopp will have plenty to ponder after his post-match analysis.

A heavily rotated Liverpool didn’t manage a shot on target across the 90 minutes and Atalanta smartly stifled any invention from the Reds while snatching two quick-fire goals in the second half.

So what are the consequences of this result? What should Klopp leave behind on a night to forget and what should he consider as he plots his way through a packed December schedule? Sportsmail takes a look…

Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side slumped to a 2-0 defeat against Atalanta at Anfield








DEC 26: WBA (H)



The first major, and probably for Klopp most irritating, consequence of the Atalanta defeat is that a busy December has just got even busier. 

Had Liverpool defeated Atalanta who, let’s not forget they thrashed 5-0 three weeks ago, they would have booked their place in the last-16 of the Champions League after only four games. It would have rendered their two remaining group matches as dead rubbers, allowing Klopp to play, well, pretty much the side he started with on Wednesday.

Instead, his stars need to dust themselves off and get set for Brighton in Saturday’s early Premier League kick-off, which is a crucial game considering second and third place Chelsea and Tottenham play each other on Sunday.

After their trip to the Amex, attention will sharply turn to Ajax at Anfield on December 1. A tough game, but if Liverpool win it means Klopp can rest his stars for one match at least when they round off their group campaign away to Midtjylland. 

Klopp’s key men are now gearing up for a whirlwind run of games across December 


As Klopp considers his team selections for Brighton and Ajax, he’ll be most mindful of his defensive ranks. Joel Matip needs protecting – he doesn’t have the most encouraging track record of negotiating a packed fixture list and only returned from a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City before the international break.

Matip doesn’t play for Cameroon, so had two weeks at Liverpool’s training base to build his fitness up but Klopp may have earmarked him for a rest against Ajax if Liverpool had beat Atalanta. Now, he may look at starting Nathaniel Phillips alongside Fabinho at Brighton – Phillips isn’t in Liverpool’s Champions League squad.

But Fabinho is even more recently out of the physio’s room after a hamstring issue of his own and given how depleted Klopp’s centre-back options are, he needs to look after him as well. The Brazilian started on the bench against Atalanta but came on in the 61st minute as Klopp tried to turn the game in Liverpool’s favour.  

Joel Matip faces a gruelling run of matches after just overcoming a hamstring problem


Klopp might be ruing quite how much he rotated his team for Atalanta but until now, he had done so masterfully in the Champions League, particularly in attack.

In the 1-0 win at Ajax, he hauled off Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah on the hour mark and against Midtjylland, the trio started as substitutes. But over in Holland, Ajax will have every reason to expect them start next Tuesday.

Divock Origi was handed a start against Atalanta and flopped big time. With the emergence of Diogo Jota, Origi has fallen even further down the pecking order so Wednesday was a big opportunity for the Belgian – and one he failed to take.

Divock Origi was disappointing as he started in the Liverpool attack against Atalanta

Takumi Minamino was a late sub – the Japan international needs to kick-start his Anfield career

It was also notable that when Klopp made four changes on the hour mark, Takumi Minamino was left on the bench and didn’t come until the 83rd minute. The Japan international has had to be patient for his opportunities at Liverpool but can be forgiven for thinking he’d have got a bit more game time against the Italians. As he approaches a year since his move to Anfield, his Liverpool career has yet to take off.

The Atalanta match was the first proper look at Kostas Tsimikas too – the Greece left-back who was signed in the summer as more orthodox back-up to Andy Robertson. 

He started the 7-2 win over Lincoln in the EFL Cup earlier this season but having contracted Covid-19 and sustaining a thigh injury, it has been a disjointed start to life at Liverpool.

That reflected in his display on Wednesday. Klopp has work to do to get the 24-year-old up to speed.  

Klopp has work to do to get Greece left-back Kostas Tsimikas up to speed at Liverpool


It was perhaps the performance of Sadio Mane that was most disappointing for Liverpool.

He started in attack alongside Origi and Salah, who has recovered from Covid-19, but produced a disjointed display as Atalanta succeeded in ushering him down dead ends whenever he was in possession. 

Was it just one of those nights for the Senegal star? Or is he starting to tire as festive fixtures approach the horizon? Klopp will look to cajole a response out of the forward in time for Brighton on Saturday. 

Sadio Mane’s display against Atalanta was perhaps most disappointing in the Liverpool side


Klopp needs more miles out of the tank from the youngsters who are learning on the job this season. Rhys Williams did well enough against Atalanta, especially considering his rise through the game. 

Neco Williams wasn’t dreadful either but replicating Trent Alexander-Arnold’s impact on the right flank is an unenviable task for any right-back in the game. With Tsimikas also adjusting to Liverpool’s setup on the opposite flank, the attack looked a little toothless without the onrushing Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.

Curtis Jones, who must have felt nervous about his first-team prospects this season when Thiago Alcantara joined and James Milner became solely a midfield option again, started his seventh game of the season in the Atalanta defeat. 

The youngsters deserve time and patience, but how much of it do Liverpool have to give at present? 

Curtis Jones started his seventh Liverpool match of the season in the Atalanta defeat

Rhys Williams has done well filling the defensive void in Liverpool’s Champions League games

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What channel is The Match 3 on? How to watch the Barkley-Mickelson vs. Curry-Manning golf match

Charles Barkley’s golf swing on live television seems as good an excuse to turn on the TV the day after Thanksgiving as any.

Chuck will be taking part in “Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Change,” otherwise dubbed The Match 3. It’ll pit a team of Barkley and Phil Mickelson against Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning at Stone Canyon Golf Club in Arizona. The proceeds raised during the event will primarily go to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Manning and Mickelson both took part in an iteration of The Match earlier this year that also featured Tiger Woods and Tom Brady.

Here’s everything you need to know to tune into Friday afternoon’s The Match 3.

What channel is The Match 3 on?

The TNT booth on Black Friday will feature regular TNT play-by-play man Brian Anderson calling the action. He’ll be joined by golfer Trevor Immelman, who was also involved with the Masters’ television broadcast, along with current NBA player Andre Iguodala. 

The on-course reporters for the event will be Cheyenne Woods (Tiger’s niece) and Gary McCord. The broadcast will also feature special guests throughout, including Eli Manning joining Michelle Wie during the pre-match show.

TNT’s HD channel number for major TV providers is as follows:

The Match 3 live stream

The simplest way for anyone with access to TNT via their cable or satellite package to stream the match is to go to Watch TNT, where you’ll essentially be tuning into the live television broadcast as it happens. 

Bleacher Report is a partner of TNT, so the B/R services are also available to stream this event. To subscribe to B/R Live, which can be accessed via the web or the B/R app, requires a payment. 

The Match 3 start time

The official golf action is supposed to get underway at 3 p.m. ET at Stone Canyon Golf Club in Arizona (so it’ll be 1 p.m. local time for the start).

According to TNT’s TV schedule, the pre-match show is scheduled to get underway at 2 p.m. ET.

The Match 3 announcers

The Match 3 features quite the host of announcers. Brian Anderson will be doing play-by-play, and he’ll be a familiar voice from baseball and basketball settings on TNT in the past. 

Anderson will be joined by two color commentators: Golfer Trevor Immelman, who worked the Masters as well, and active NBA player Andre Iguodala, a former teammate of Curry’s in Golden State. The on-course reporters will be Cheyenee Woods, who is Tiger’s niece, and Gary McCord.

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Europa League last 32: When is draw? Dates, fixtures, teams for knockout stage

The Europa League group stage is nearing its conclusion, with several British sides hoping to reach the know. Here’s what you need to know about the round of 32.

When is the Europa League last 32 draw?

The draw will take place at midday on Monday, December 14 in Nyon – after the Champions League last 16 draw. You will be able to follow it across Sky Sports’ platforms.

Who has reached the last 32?

That is still to be decided but Arsenal, Tottenham, Leicester and Rangers are all in a strong position to qualify.

Celtic, however, are currently bottom of Group H after three games and face a battle to stay in the competition.

  • Get Sky Sports – All channels £23/month
  • Europa League news | Fixtures | Tables

What is the draw format?

The draw will comprise 12 group winners, 12 group runners-up and eight third-placed sides from the Champions League who will drop into the Europa League knockout phase.


The clubs will be split into two pots, with the 12 group winners and the four best third-ranked teams in the UEFA Champions League group stage all seeded.

No team can play a club from their Europa League group or a side from the same national association at this stage.

The ties will take place over two legs, with the seeded teams at home in the second legs.

When will the games be played?

February 18, 2021: Round of 32 first legs
February 25, 2021: Round of 32 second legs

What are the other key dates?

December 3: Group stage matchday 5
December 10: Group stage matchday 6
February 18 & 25, 2021: Round of 32
March 11 & 18, 2021: Round of 16
April 8 & 15, 2021: Quarter-finals
April 29 & May 6, 2021: Semi-finals
May 26: Final (Gdansk, Poland)

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Is there an NFL night game on Thanksgiving? Football schedule, TV channels after Week 12 changes

The NFL’s Thanksgiving schedule was following the mantra of saving the best until last, but then 2020 got in the way.

The Ravens and Steelers were meant to play Thursday night to cap off a three-game Thanksgiving slate. Instead, Baltimore had a COVID-19 outbreak on its team, and the NFL announced Wednesday afternoon it has postponed the game until Sunday afternoon. On short notice, the league chose to keep the first two Thanksgiving games at their originally scheduled start times.

Every year since 2006, the NFL has had a third Thanksgiving game to serve as a nightcap. That won’t be the case in 2020. Once Cowboys-Washington ends around 7:30 p.m. ET, you’ll have to find something else to watch.

Below is all you need to know about the altered Week 12 NFL schedule and what other limited viewing options you have Thursday night. 

WEEK 12 NFL PICKS: Against the spread | Straight-up predictions 

Is there an NFL game tonight?

No, there is not a night NFL game on Thanksgiving in 2020. It was never going to be an officially branded “Thursday Night Football” game due to the NFL’s Thanksgiving slate of games, but rescheduling means there won’t be a nightcap to the Thanksgiving action at all.

The Steelers and Ravens were scheduled to play at 8:20 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving night in a broadcast with NBC’s usual “Sunday Night Football” crew. It shaped up as a chance for Pittsburgh to try and move to 11-0 on the season. Instead, a COVID-19 outbreak on the Ravens has led to that game’s postponement. 

The newly scheduled kickoff in Pittsburgh with Baltimore in town is 1:15 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. The game will still get national broadcast treatment on NBC.

NFL schedule Week 12

Thursday, Nov. 26

Sunday, Nov. 29

Monday, Nov. 30

Sports on TV at night on Thursday, Nov. 26

Considering you’re looking for a night football game, the listed events only contain games that will still be taking place at 7 p.m. ET or later.

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When is ‘The Match 3’? Time, TV schedule for the Barkley-Mickelson vs. Curry-Manning golf match

Charles Barkley teams up with Phil Mickelson against Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning in a round of golf for charity the day after Thanksgiving.

The Match 3, officially called “Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Change” will tee off in Arizona on the afternoon following the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of the proceeds will go toward supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The only PGA regular of the group, Mickelson, will get to play with Barkley and his much-maligned swing. Curry has played in pro golf events before and teams with Manning, who played in The Match 2 earlier in the year.

Here’s everything you need to know about when The Match 3 takes place, along with how to watch and who you’ll be listening to on the broadcast.

The Match 3 start time

For those on the East Coast, you can tune into TNT at 3 p.m. ET and hopefully immediately see golf action. The Match 3 is taking place in Arizona at Stone Canyon Golf Club, so that works out to 1 p.m. local time for the competitors. 

If you’re looking for the pre-match show, that’s viewable on TNT beginning at 2 p.m. ET. That might be worth a watch, too, because it’s supposed to feature Eli Manning and Michelle Wie.

How to watch The Match 3 golf

If you get TNT through your cable/satellite service provider, you can watch the event online at Watch TNT, which will require you to sign in with your television provider log-in information. Those without access to TNT can pay to subscribe to B/R live, which can be watched on the Bleacher Report website or the B/R app.

For those watching on television, here’s the list of TNT’s HD channel numbers for a number of the major providers:

The Match 3 announcers

The Match 3 will get its play-by-play commentary from Brian Anderson, who’s a major voice of TNT’s baseball and basketball coverage, as well. He’ll be joined by color commentators Trevor Immelman and Andre Iguodala. Immelman is a professional golfer who was involved with the Masters’ television coverage, while Iguodala is an active NBA player and former teammate of Curry’s with the Warriors.

Cheyenne Woods (Tiger’s niece) and Gary McCord will join the crew as on-course reporters.

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Wayne Rooney says he is 'doing a lot behind the scenes' at Derby in new role

Wayne Rooney has revealed he is doing “a lot of things behind the scenes” since becoming the senior figure of a four-man interim management team at Derby.

Derby captain Rooney is currently collaborating in a foursome with coaches Liam Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker to lead training and decide team selection following Philip Cocu’s dismissal.

He has previously expressed his desire to take the Derby job full-time but Sky Sports News does not expect a decision will be made until the takeover by Abu Dhabi royal family member Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is completed.

  • Bristol City see off Rooney’s Derby
  • EFL Podcast: Benitez? Balotelli? Steve Cook!
  • Rooney confirms ambition to take Derby job full-time

The impending deal should be finalised by the end of the month and has been approved by the English Football League, with Derby currently sat bottom of the Sky Bet Championship following Saturday’s defeat to Bristol City.

“I wouldn’t be sat here if I didn’t think I was ready to take it on,” striker Rooney told a press conference on Monday, reiterating his readiness for a management position. “There’s a lot more to the role than preparing the team.


“I have to do a lot of things behind the scenes and I am comfortable and fine doing that.

“We did all the prep on Friday evening and after the last meeting I focused solely on being a player. I need to be fair to myself, the player. To be fair I’m pretty good at switching off when I need to.”

Quizzed on if he would continue his playing career at the age of 35 if he were to be given the manager’s job, Rooney replied: “That isn’t even on the table at the minute.

“I need to focus on playing and preparing the team so I don’t have time to focus on anything else like that. I’ve not been given any idea as to how long the other three coaches will be in these roles.”

The Rams’ new prospective owners have already held virtual talks with club CEO Stephen Pearce, current owner Mel Morris and the interim coaching staff.

Their immediate task will be turning around Derby’s fortunes with the club winning just one game from their first 12, following a 10th-placed finish last season.

“We are a lot better than we have shown and the biggest thing we need to improve is confidence,” Rooney added. “We need to make the players understand their quality. We saw an improvement on Saturday even though we lost.

“The team were getting into the final third a lot more. If you walked into the canteen or the dressing room you wouldn’t think we are sat bottom of the Championship. I’ve seen a big lift in the players this last week.”

Derby next face Middlesbrough in the Championship on Wednesday night at the Riverside Stadium with Rooney and co testing themselves against Neil Warnock’s side.

Analysis: Who is the next man to lead Derby? Rooney, Rafa?

Sky Sports pundit Keith Andrews was a guest on the Sky Sports EFL Podcast, discussing Derby’s current situation and their search for a new manager.

  • Listen to the Sky Sports EFL Podcast: Benitez? Balotelli? Steve Cook!

He believes that Rooney expects to be the next manager at the club, but also fails to understand why a shock named linked with the job – Rafa Benitez – would want a move to the club.

“I have no doubt Wayne Rooney expected to be the manager after Phillip Cocu’s reign ended. In terms of how it works out now, I’m not sure,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to be a player-manager now. I was a player-coach and I couldn’t do it. There is so much that goes on away from the pitch, and when you’ve finished training and with the time it takes it’s actually impossible to do. He needs to make a decision about going one way or the other.”

“Then there is Liam Rosenior. We’ve all worked with him and he’s such a clever, astute young man and coach who will no doubt want to go on and manage. How would it work between them? Because he wants to be a coach, too.

“With the takeover lingering in the background as well it remains to be seen what type of manager they want. I don’t think it will be Wayne Rooney, I think they’ll go a different route.

“It’s a no-brainer if [Rafa Benitez] he has shown any inclination to come and manage your football club. He is a serious operator with a proven CV, he’s tactically astute and knows the industry inside-out. He’s even got Championship promotion on his CV after sticking with Newcastle.

“But why would Rafa Benitez take Derby County? I just can’t see that one.”

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Gattuso claims Ibrahimovic is even STRONGER than he was ten years ago

Gennaro Gattuso claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ‘STRONGER’ than he was 10 years ago after former team-mate hit a brace for AC Milan against his Napoli side as the veteran striker continues to impress

  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued to defy his age by scoring a brace against Napoli 
  • The 39-year-old has 10 goals from six games for AC Milan in Serie A this season
  • Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso, his former Milan team-mate, hailed his display
  • He believes he is ‘even stronger’ than he was a decade ago after his heroics  

Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso believes his former team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ‘even stronger’ than he was a decade ago after the veteran AC Milan striker netted a brace against his side on Sunday.

The towering Swede sent his side top of Serie A once again as he inspired a 3-1 win, with Milan continuing their impressive campaign so far – Ibrahimovic netting 10 goals from just six league games despite approaching his forties.

The former Manchester United star shocked fans by re-joining Milan last December, with many questioning whether the 39-year-old still had the quality to continue performing at the top level after a stint in the MLS.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice as Serie A leaders AC Milan beat 10-man Napoli on Sunday

Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso claimed the 39-year-old is ‘even stronger’ than 10 years ago

But Gattuso, who played with Ibrahimovic at the San Siro for two seasons between 2010 and 2012, says his form is no surprise and said he had the full confidence of Milan – insisting that the player was ‘stronger’ than he was ’10 or 12 years ago’. 

‘Milan believe firmly in Ibra, they believe 100 per cent in what they are doing,’ Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia, via Goal. ‘He seems I think even stronger now than he was 10, 12 years ago.

‘They put the crosses in because they know he’ll get on the end of them. What we did today was create lots of chances and not believe in them fully.’

Gattuso, himself a Milan legend after 468 appearances for the club, enjoyed a Scudetto success with Ibrahimovic in 2010-11 while the forward was on loan from Barcelona, as he scored 14 league goals to aid their run to the title. 

Gattuso (right) played with Ibrahimovic (left) for two years and won the league title in 2011

Napoli have enjoyed a decent start to the Italian top flight season but suffered their third loss to leave them in sixth place. The team started the campaign with back-to-back wins, including a 6-0 demolition of Genoa. 

Their only defeats have come at home to Sassuolo and a 3-0 walkover against Juventus after failing to turn up amid a surge in Covid cases. After the latest defeat, Gattuso said he was keen for his players to feel supported and did not want to act like their ‘professor’. 

‘It’s about mentality,’ he said. ‘Football is about helping each other out, clubbing together, having a kind, reassuring word for your team-mate when they’re struggling.

‘There are too many people who act like professors, who want to teach you everything. This hurts me.’

The Swedish star continues to defy his age and has 10 goals from just six matches this season

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MICAH RICHARDS: Aguero is the man I'd choose to score to save my life

MICAH RICHARDS: Sergio Aguero is the man I’d choose to score to save my life… he’s a better finisher than the legendary Thierry Henry and has been seriously under-appreciated

  • Micah Richards thinks Sergio Aguero has been underappreciated in England
  • Richards didn’t immediately see the hype with Aguero when he was in training 
  • However, Aguero’s brilliant debut against Swansea City changed his mind
  • Aguero’s dramatic title-clincher against QPR was a prime example of his work 

If Sergio Aguero had been the face of an advertising campaign, would people be more respectful and appreciative of his talents?

I often wonder whether we realise what a player we have watched for the last 10 seasons. Aguero has had as big an impact on English football as Thierry Henry. 

He might not be as easy on the eye as Henry in terms of style but he is a better finisher than the Arsenal legend.

Micah Richards thinks Sergio Aguero has not received enough credit for his spell in England

Richards believes Aguero is a sharper finisher than the iconic Arsenal forward Thierry Henry

Henry, though, will always command affection. He was the man with ‘Va va voom!’ — he is charismatic and played football with a swagger. 

He gave revealing interviews and had a spell as a pundit before he turned to management. If you didn’t support Arsenal, I bet you still liked Henry.

Most people, on the other hand, wouldn’t know a great deal about Sergio. It makes me think the fact he is a quiet man has stopped him being recognised as one of the greats of the modern era, a striker who Manchester City will never be able to truly replace.

Without Sergio, I wouldn’t have a Premier League winner’s medal. He scored 23 League goals in 2011-12 and was directly responsible for providing nine points to our total of 89, but that simple statistic doesn’t do him justice. It’s better to refer to him as a moment-in-time player.

The amazing thing is, I wondered what all the fuss was about him when he first came into training. 

In those first couple of sessions, following his £35million arrival from Atletico Madrid, I looked at him and thought, ‘Is he that special?’   

Robinho made a bigger first impression on Richards than Aguero at first during training drills

Aguero scored twice and set up another on his debut against Swansea City after coming on

He never did anything other than in second gear. His finishing was good but nothing that made you think, ‘Wow!’ His reputation was huge but I was struggling to get excited about what he might do for us after a few days at Carrington.

It wasn’t like Robinho, who had joined us from Real Madrid three years earlier. He was incredible from the first minute and he looked every inch the superstar.

If he had joined at the same time as Sergio, when the team were more settled, we’d have a much different opinion of Robinho.

Back to Sergio, and when he came on as a substitute against Swansea, I knew within 30 minutes he would go down as the best striker I had played with. 

I watched the highlights of that performance again to refresh my mind and I had goosebumps.

His first goal, a tap-in at the back post, came from one of the best crosses you will ever see (yes, I provided it) but he scored another from 30 yards and provided an assist for David Silva with an overhead kick from the byline after he refused to give up the chase for a ball. 

The win over the Swans convinced Richards that City signed a star striker in Aguero 

Manchester City won their first Premier League after Aguero’s dramatic winner against QPR

I said to him afterwards, ‘Sergio! Where did that come from? In training, I didn’t see this!’ 

He looked back with a smile and said: ‘Training, tranquillo (stay calm)! The game is important!’

How right he was. Monday to Friday, he did what he had to do, but at the weekend a switch flicked once he crossed the line.

He is relentless at closing people down, clever at how he can bring people into play. Some would have you believe he’s just a poacher. 

It’s a ridiculous thing to say. If I had to pick someone to score to save my life, it would be him every single time. 

His goal against Queens Park Rangers to win the 2011-12 title is the best example of his work. 

The goal is the most dramatic in Premier League history and owed much to Aguero’s quality

Aguero waves to the City fans after finishing the 2014-15 season as the league’s top goalscorer

Watch it and see how he feints and takes an extra touch before deceiving Paddy Kenny and shooting to the near post.

By rights, for all he has accomplished, he should have an ego. Most big strikers do but with Sergio it can be disarming how unassuming he is. 

He goes to work, plays football, goes home. There’s not a hint of arrogance about him, just a quiet lad.

The only time I have really seen his emotions come pouring out was after scoring against QPR. 

In the dressing room afterwards he came out of his shell, but most of the time you wouldn’t know he is there. 

It is the quietness that makes me wonder whether he is taken for granted. Some players have been very good at making themselves brands and creating profiles but none of it has interested Sergio. He gets overlooked but he will be missed when he is gone.

His intention has always been to finish his career back in Argentina but I expect now Pep Guardiola has signed a contract extension that Sergio will do the same. 

Aguero has continued to evolve under current boss Pep Guardiola as City have gone up a level

Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres will have a tough task matching Aguero’s goalscoring feats

Whether it is for 12 months or two years, it is a piece of business I hope City conclude.

City will sign another striker in the future, and hopes are high for Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres, but there is nobody like Sergio.

There will never be another one like him at Manchester City and there haven’t been many better in the Premier League.

It was my privilege to see his talent first-hand.

Micah’s Man of the Week: Declan Rice

The international break saw Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Mason Mount all enhance their reputations but let’s not overlook another midfielder.

I had always regarded Declan Rice as a central defender playing in midfield but it seems he has become a permanent fixture in England’s team.

Rice has the ability to move back and become one of the best defenders in the Premier League — but he is maturing in the middle and he impressed me against Iceland, alongside Mount.

Declan Rice scored the first goal as England cruised to a 4-0 Nations League win over Iceland 

It felt like England were more fluent and adventurous and I hope this is the way we line up in all the fixtures against nations that we are expected to beat.

Grealish and Foden get people off their seats but every team needs someone like Rice. He is a really good footballer.

Dementia debate must lead to change… now

I am not an expert on dementia but I do know the impact it can have on families and I was moved by Chris Sutton’s interview in these pages earlier this week.

My heart goes out to him and his family for the plight they are facing with his father, Mike. 

If Sportsmail’s campaign accelerates change going forward, then the issue about tackling dementia should not even be up for debate.

Chris Sutton has spoken about his father’s dementia and is leading Sportsmail’s campaign

It needs to happen.

When I was young, I used to love heading. Going up for aerial battles was a big part of my game and there was something old school about getting stuck in.

You would never show any pain, even on the occasions you knew you had hurt your head.

The long-term effects on the brain of heading a football repeatedly need to properly examined

I don’t regret heading the ball so much but I’m glad I’m now aware of the findings.

I remember playing with footballs that were too hard and I am pleased that doesn’t happen any longer.

Young children don’t need to be heading before their neck muscles are properly strengthened and they have an understanding of what they are doing. We need to make things safer.

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