B/R Gossip Roundup: Deja Vu for United, Changes at Chelsea and Suarez in Focus
The focus is firmly on the title race, but that has not distracted the papers from their hunt for transfer gossip.
The past seven days have seen the papers produce back-page headlines on the potential summer movers and shakers.
Jose Mourinho is in the mix, as are Manchester United, while a certain Luis Suarez is back in the transfer spotlight.
Here, we take a look at the stories from the week and offer our assessment.
Jose Mourinho Will Cut His Chelsea Squad in the Summer
It’s all gone a shade pear shaped for Chelsea, with defeat to Crystal Palace last weekend prompting Blues boss Jose Mourinho to wave the white flag in the title race.
That sort of chat could still prove to be bluster, but what did not appear to be bluster was the warning he fired to his squad with regard to their futures.
The Mail’s Matt Barlow had the quotes:
It is clear to everybody that Chelsea next year want to bring a striker. What’s the future for the others? The ones who are staying are competing with the striker we are bringing in.
It is normal at the end of the season if players who are not playing a lot or players who are not happy and prefer a change will go. That is also part of the market.
We want to improve the team and the players and make some surgical movements in the transfer window. It is also clear we want to improve our players.
I can’t and I don’t need to improve Ivanovic, Cahill or Terry, but there are others I need to improve. We are doing that step by step. But that’s not enough to be champions.
Mourinho has said for quite some time that he did not think he had a side capable of winning the title in his first season back at the club.
That will not be a stance he will adopt ahead of next season. As such, there is little double the Portuguese will overhaul his squad.
The likes of Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o are all under threat, given Mourinho’s statement that “it is clear to everybody that Chelsea next year want to bring a striker.”
But the warning that only Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and John Terry look exempt from the axe is telling.
Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are in the final weeks of their contracts and could well be heading out of the club on a free. There are other players, such as Romelu Lukaku who is on loan at Everton and David Luiz who was linked with a move away from the club last summer and in January, who could also be on their way.
Believability Meter: High
Mourinho had the look of an angry and disappointed man following the Palace loss, but his words did not come across as knee-jerk reactions. Expect changes, and major changes at that, to the Stamford Bridge playing staff this summer.
Younes Kaboul to Arsenal Is Interesting, but Spurs Star Unlikely to Follow Sol
There will have been a worrying case of deja vu hanging over Tottenham Hotspur supporters as they opened their newspapers on Wednesday morning.
David Woods of the Daily Star had the exclusive news that Spurs defender Younes Kaboul was considering a transfer to Arsenal in the summer.
Woods, no doubt like many White Hart Lane regulars, immediately jumped on the similarities in the move across North London made by former Tottenham star Sol Campbell in 2001.
The former England international's decision to make that switch was never forgiven by Spurs fans, and his subsequent appearances against his old club were greeted with derision by his former supporters.
The move may also not be overtly welcomed by Arsenal fans, however.
For the player, the move would be regarded as a step up in his career, with Arsene Wenger's side still in pole position for a Champions League spot, no matter the result at Everton on Sunday.
But, arguably, Gunners supporters might decree the move was another underwhelming one by Wenger and the board when a couple of first-class additions are what appears to be required after the team faltered badly in the Premier League title race recently.
There is more to Kaboul than that, though, and acting as a backup defender for the Gunners might be to the benefit of the Emirates Stadium club.
Arsenal will be looking for a central defender in the summer, with Thomas Vermaelen seemingly heading for the exit door after failing to command a first-team spot this season.
The Belgium international has found his opportunities limited this season as Wenger favoured a defensive axis of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny.
It is hard to disagree with the Gunners manager's logic after some impressive displays by the pair, particularly earlier in the season when Arsenal were flying.
The addition of Kaboul, 28, would give an experienced depth to the squad, and the chance to irritate their rivals with the signing, a la Campbell.
Kaboul dismissed the speculation on his own Twitter feed, @YounsKabs4, the following day, saying: "I can confirm 100% that the rumour about me joining Arsenal is not true!!!"
It wasn't the swiftest of counters to a speculation story, though, but perhaps the fact Campbell is still attempting to build bridges with Spurs fans, as Ashley Clements of the Daily Mail reported last month, played its part in ensuring the France international has no intention of following the same route.
Believability meter: Low
Kaboul to Arsenal is an interesting proposition, not least for the reaction of the Tottenham supporters, but we must take the defender at his word.
There is a degree of confusion over the length of Kaboul's current deal which may also scupper the story, but we can't see the transfer really taking place. We suspect there may be a bit of fishing by Kaboul's agent going on here.
Toni Kroos Pursuit Has Hallmark of Cesc Fabregas Failure for Manchester United
The ultimately flawed public pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the summer set the tone for a season of disappointment for Manchester United.
New Old Trafford manager David Moyes was looking to make a statement of intent, and the former Arsenal star clearly fitted the bill.
Strangely, the Old Trafford club were open about their chase for Fabregas, although the midfielder appeared to have given little encouragement that he wanted to leave the Camp Nou.
As Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express reported in September, the Spain international had no intention of leaving Barcelona and was quoted as saying:
I am focussed on winning with Barca.
When I arrived, I knew there would be other clubs where I would have earned more money and where I could get more playing time.
For example, I was making more money at Arsenal. But to join Barca was my dream, and I would not leave even if they [United] offered double my salary.
Spin forward seven months, though, and the transfer link between United and Bayern Munich midfielder Toni Kroos is refusing to go away.
This week saw Alan Nixon of the Daily Mirror report that Moyes and the Old Trafford club were hoping an offer of £40 million would be enough to tempt Bayern into a deal.
Nixon himself pointed out the story linking the Germany international with United had been floating around for a while.
But Bayern insist the player is going nowhere, as Marcus Christenson of The Guardian reported earlier this week.
Kroos' situation is that he has a year left on his current contract at the Allianz Arena, and could leave the club for nothing at the end of next season.
Is it any wonder he is refusing to nail his colours to one mast just yet, with the rumours of United interest building?
Kroos cannot fail in this situation. Bayern may seek to offer him a new contract to stave off interest from elsewhere, while he will not be short of suitors elsewhere if he leaves.
But the real question has to be why the 24-year-old would want to leave such a successful team as Bayern?
Believability meter: Low
Moyes needs a marquee summer signing desperately ahead of next season after such a disappointing first year in charge of the club.
But the pursuit of Kroos is unlikely to bring the desired reward for United, and merely smacks of the futile chase for Fabregas last year.
Yevhen Konoplyanka Would Be Solid Liverpool Addition, but Are Reds Being Played?
Liverpool's pursuit of Dnipro winger Yevhen Konoplyanka became the story of the January transfer deadline day earlier this year.
The Anfield club had agreed terms with the Ukraine international, and medical staff travelled to eastern Europe to complete the deal before Dnipro owner Ihor Kolomoyskyi thwarted the deal, as Andy Hunter of The Guardian reported at the time.
Tottenham Hotspur appeared to have stepped into the breach after the Reds' failure to sign Konoplyanka, with Hannah Duncan of The Metro reporting last month the north London club were favoured by Dnipro president Kolomoyskyi.
The fallout after Liverpool's bid for the Dnipro player failed seemed mixed at the time, with fears among supporters that a lack of squad strengthening would harm their hopes of winning the Premier League title this season.
One look at the current table will see those views laughed off, with the Reds right in the thick of the championship race with Chelsea and Manchester City.
With Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho in excellent form, Brendan Rodgers' team have ensured missing out on Konoplyanka has barely altered their trajectory.
There have been some notable newcomers interrupting past title challengers, with Faustino Asprilla's arrival at Newcastle in 1996 blamed in some quarters for the Magpies being hauled in by Manchester United in the closing weeks of the Premier League season, as Rob Smyth of The Guardian recalled.
The very nature of the mid-season transfer window means more questions are left than answered, and there will never be any definitive proof Konoplyanka would have scuppered or enhanced Liverpool's dream of ending a 24-year wait for the title.
But the prospect of Konoplyanka joining the Reds in the summer is a more straightforward issue.
This season, Liverpool have been unhindered by the distractions of European competition, but the Champions League looks set to be part of the Anfield calendar again next season.
New recruits will be required, and Konoplyanka would be a welcome squad addition if the Reds make their move.
Believability meter: Medium
Liverpool's interest in Konoplyanka is obviously known after events in January, and the winger would be good transfer acquisition.
But the prospect of the Reds and Tottenham vying for the winger can only send the fee skyward. That is something Kolomoyskyi will also be aware of.
City Might Want Suarez, but Liverpool Have Pulling Power of Their Own
Much like last summer, that man Luis Suarez has been headline news this season.
The difference to the summer window of 2013, the talk about Suarez in recent weeks has been about his performances on the pitch as opposed to his possible exit from Liverpool.
Since returning from his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez has been simply sensational—so much so that Liverpool are firmly in the hunt to end their long Premier League title drought.
In December 2013, Suarez signed a new long-term deal at Liverpool—which the club hoped would put to bed any talk of transfers.
It did, for a while. But the forward’s future was thrust back into the spotlight by Duncan Castles of the Sunday Times (Subscription).
In his piece, Castles suggested City are fearful of losing Sergio Aguero in the summer. With that in mind, City director of football Txiki Begiristain is planning a “huge investment” to bring Suarez the Etihad.
Should Liverpool be worried by the report?
The answer has to be yes. With the money at City’s disposal, they could make a colossal offer, combined with massive wages, that would prove to be a huge temptation. Also, given last year’s issues when Suarez agitated for a move only to see Liverpool stand firm, the club cannot take his loyalty for granted.
If City are given any sort of indication Suarez could be interested, they can be expected to act at pace.
But what is in Liverpool’s favour is the huge strides they have made this term. When Suarez was targeted by Arsenal last summer, Liverpool were a side who had finished a mammoth 28 points behind champions Manchester United.
This term, the Reds are in the title mix and will have Champions League football to look forward to next season. Suarez wants to mix it with Europe’s elite; Liverpool can offer that to him next term.
Believability Meter: Low
The idea of City wanting Suarez is eminently believable. But wanting and getting are poles apart. Liverpool are a side on the up under Brendan Rodgers and Suarez will be a huge part of the Anfield revolution.
Sympathy for Liverpool's Iago Aspas After Arriving at Wrong Time for a Forward
It can be hard sometimes to feel any kind of sympathy for a highly paid footballer, but Iago Aspas perhaps deserves a little, if only for the realisation it could happen to anyone.
In June last year, Liverpool shelled out £7 million for the Celta Vigo forward after being monitored by Brendan Rodgers during his time as Swansea City manager, as BBC Sport reported.
The 26-year-old arrived at Anfield on the back of scoring 12 times in 34 La Liga appearances for the Spanish club last season, and appeared to be a solid addition to the Reds' squad.
Indeed, things started well for Aspas with a regular first-team berth in the opening games of the campaign under Rodgers.
But occasionally, you are just somewhere at exactly the wrong time, no matter what your abilities are.
And with Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in such devastating form for the Reds throughout this season, there has been little scope for Aspas to make his mark.
So when Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express reported on Saturday the player was looking for a way out of Anfield in the summer, few people would have been surprised.
Aspas has scored just once in 14 appearances for Liverpool this season, and has little opportunity to improve on that tally before the campaign comes to its conclusion next month.
Aspas is in a similar boat to another summer arrival at Liverpool from the Spanish top flight, Luis Alberto.
But even Rodgers admits the former Celta man has arrived at the wrong time with the Reds, as Neil Jones of the Liverpool Echo reported this week.
Rodgers is quoted as saying:
I really feel for Iago. It’s been so difficult for him.
He has a world-class striker in Luis Suarez for competition and another who has come in and done exceptionally well in Daniel Sturridge. Daniel is potentially world class and I’m sure we will see that over the coming seasons.
But that has never stopped Iago working well every day in training. He has never given up the fight. He may have only come on for small periods in games, but he has made a contribution
I’ve got the utmost respect for Iago and his professionalism. He keeps working, he has a great character and mentality.
We will see where we’re at with him come the summer.
Reading between the lines here, all the signs appear to be pointing to the Anfield exit for Aspas.
He deserves a chance to make his mark in another place.
Believability meter: High
Aspas has merely fallen foul of an incredibly powerful forward line ahead of him, and the move away from Anfield seems the only logical solution to the conundrum.
The former Celta man had a chance to make a mark with Suarez still serving the remainder of a 10-match suspension, but the Uruguayan has been peerless since his return.
In truth, Aspas never stood a chance and deserves the opportunity to resurrect his career elsewhere.
War of Words Between Rafael Benitez and Jose Mourinho Will Never Get Boring
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has never been short of a sharp word or two for an adversary who dares to tread on his toes.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was recently on the wrong end of a whipped comment from the Stamford Bridge boss when he referred to the Frenchman as a "specialist in failure" in one press conference.
But we had been getting concerned at the lack of fire between Mourinho and Napoli manager Rafael Benitez in recent months.
The pair are long-term adversaries and had not traded blows since.
This week, though, the pair reignited their feud with Benitez reacting to a Mourinho comment that the Blues underachieved in Europe last season.
Faced with criticism from his regular sparring partner, Benitez countered the blow as Martin Lipton of the Daily Mirror reported on Tuesday.
Mourinho talks a lot about a lot of people, but I prefer to talk about facts.
At Liverpool, with a squad half of the value of Chelsea, we twice knocked his Chelsea side out of the Champions League.
Later, with the most expensive squad at Real Madrid, he did nothing in the Champions League.
Now he says if there is an offer of hundreds of millions for Hazard and Oscar, maybe he can build a strong squad to win something.
Benitez, himself, forgot to throw in the fact Mourinho had twice won the Champions League with FC Porto (2004) and Inter Milan (2010). It was probably just an oversight.
But it is reassuring to know in among false respect and praise in football, there is still room for old-fashioned enmity between bosses.
The pair first became embroiled following the fall-out from Luis Garcia's goal for Liverpool against Chelsea in the 2005 Champions League semifinal at Anfield (BBC Sport).
And when Benitez was appointed to replace Roberto Di Matteo in November 2012, Mourinho did little to disguise a conversation with Brazilian defender Maicon, as Ian Hudson of Goal.com reported.
We can only hope the pair continue one of the more entertaining feuds in world football.
Believability meter: High
Forget Arsene Wenger, Mourinho's real enemy in the game is Benitez. Ever since arriving in the Premier League within days of each other in 2004, the pair have been indelibly linked together.
It is highly unlikely either man will give way in this long-running saga, so we might as well grab some popcorn, sit back and enjoy.