Welcome to ESPN’s Insider Notebook, featuring contributions from our reporters across the top leagues around the world. In this edition, Chelsea are losing faith in their No.1. Plus: Luka Jovic’s unhappy time in Spain could be over.
Jump to: Jovic’s Real nightmare over? | Xavi wants Silva in Qatar | Maradona an unlikely saviour | Smalling, Sanchez latest | Hudson-Odoi to fight for future | English stadiums could welcome fans back
Lampard loses faith in Kepa
Chelsea will prioritise the signing of a new goalkeeper once a deal is finalised for Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, with sources telling ESPN that manager Frank Lampard has lost patience with No.1 Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Kepa, who became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when he completed a £71.6 million transfer from Athletic Bilbao in August 2018, has conceded 47 goals in 33 Premier League appearances for Chelsea this season and will equal the record set by Dmitri Kharine of most goals conceded in a season by a Stamford Bridge keeper if he fails to keep a clean sheet in Sunday’s final-day clash against Wolves.
With former Russia No.1 Kharine setting his unenviable milestone during a 42-game season in 1993-94 — he made 40 league appearances — Kepa already has posted the worst statistical record of any Chelsea keeper during the Premier League era.
Sources have told ESPN that Lampard’s lack of confidence dates to the first half of this season because of concerns over Kepa’s ability to command his penalty area and dominate when the ball is in the air.
He was dropped in favour of former Manchester City keeper Willy Caballero in February for four league games and the Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich, but Lampard restored him to the lineup for league games since the season restarted last month.
Chelsea’s defensive shortcomings, combined with Kepa’s goalkeeping weaknesses, have seen the team concede 11 goals in their last four league games and Lampard is determined to rectify the problem by finding a new keeper.
Dean Henderson, on loan at Sheffield United from Manchester United, is attracting interest from Chelsea, but sources have said that Lampard wants a more proven and experienced option for Kepa, whose transfer fee makes it almost impossible for Chelsea to recover their investment by selling the Spain international this summer. — Mark Ogden
Jovic’s Madrid nightmare could end with Monaco move
The striker has failed to make an impact at Madrid, scoring just twice in 26 appearances in all competitions after joining from Eintracht Frankfurt for €60m a year ago. He was also criticised for breaching the coronavirus lockdown and hurting his foot while doing so. He flew home to Serbia and was then photographed breaking rules regarding social distancing.
Kovac managed Jovic at Frankfurt and is keen on a reunion with the 22-year-old, with a loan the most likely option at this stage.
Monaco and their new sporting director Paul Mitchell are planning for a big summer. They must sell a lot of players to reduce their first-team squad but will have between €100m and €150m to spend. — Julien Laurens
Who was the biggest key to Real Madrid’s success this season? Sid Lowe has difficulty pinpointing a single player.
Xavi wants Silva in Qatar
The Al Sadd manager, who completed a deal to sign Santi Cazorla earlier this week, played with his two compatriots during the Spanish national team’s golden era from 2008-12 and plans to reunite them and form a dream duo at the team he has led since 2019.
Xavi recently lost Gabi after the former Atletico Madrid captain decided to retire and various sources have confirmed to ESPN that the Barcelona legend would like to fill that gap with Cazorla and Silva.
Silva remains quiet over his future, having announced this would be his last campaign with Pep Guardiola’s side. He was sounded out by former club Valencia and other European teams before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted football, but will not make his decision public until the end of the season, with City still in search of their first Champions League crown.
Xavi’s long-term future at Al Sadd has been under question since January, when Barcelona attempted to recruit him to replace Ernesto Valverde, but the former midfielder coach renewed his contract earlier this month and is focused on trying to make the best possible squad ahead of next season.
Other sources have confirmed to ESPN that Xavi also contacted Chelsea‘s Pedro in January to try and sign him, but his former Barcelona teammate will join Roma at the end of the season. — Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal and Moises Llorens
Thousands of Liverpool fans gathered outside Anfield to celebrate the clubs Prem trophy presentation.
Maradona inspires club’s survival
He’s had an up-and-down coaching career, but Diego Maradona is being credited with saving Spanish second division club Lugo from relegation.
The struggling team’s players were shown a video of the legendary No.10 offering encouragement, saying “I know you’ve got a key game … We’ll all be keeping an eye on Lugo,” before their must-win, final-day clash with Mirandes on Monday.
“We show them motivational videos and we’ve kept raising the bar until today,” Lugo coach Juanfran, a former Spain international defender, said. “Maradona sent them a video. I told them that sometimes the impossible becomes reality. If we could get Diego Maradona to send them his support, then they could do whatever they wanted. God was with us. He wished us luck.”
Lugo went on to win the game, scoring late to take a 2-1 victory that saw them finish two points clear of the drop zone.
The club will send Maradona a video from the players and a signed shirt to return the favour. — Alex Kirkland and Rodrigo Faez
The FC guys are all in agreement Paul Pogba was ill-prepared after conceding a penalty to West Ham.
Smalling, Sanchez could face United in Europa League
Roma and Inter Milan will need to extend their loan agreements for Chris Smalling and Alexis Sanchez before Manchester United allow the pair to play in the remaining Europa League fixtures, sources have told ESPN.
Smalling and Sanchez moved to Italy on loan last summer and the deals were extended to cover the end of the Serie A season in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Those deals are due to end after the final domestic games of the season on Aug. 2 and do not cover the Europa League mini tournament in Germany.
UEFA rules would allow Smalling and Sanchez to play against United if they can agree on a further extension. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could meet Roma in the semifinals Aug. 16 and Inter in the final five days later.
Smalling has impressed at Roma, making 33 appearances in all competitions and scoring twice. Sanchez has scored three times in 25 games this term.
Sources have told ESPN that United are open to the possibility of negotiating fresh loan deals for both players, which would cover the Europa League and the 2020-21 season with an option to buy next summer. — Rob Dawson
Hudson-Odoi to fight for Chelsea place
It has been suggested Hudson-Odoi is looking for a way out of Stamford Bridge after featuring predominantly off the bench for Chelsea this season, with Christian Pulisic and Willian preferred in attack.
But the 19-year-old is committed to Chelsea, having signed a five-year contract in September 2019. A source close to Hudson-Odoi told ESPN the reports “aren’t true” and “he has no interest in leaving.”
Before signing a new deal, he was keen to pursue a move to Bayern Munich in the hope of getting more first-team football, but Lampard’s faith in youth persuaded Hudson-Odoi to stay.
The FC guys explain why West Brom were lucky to secure promotion after poor results down the stretch.
English stadiums could open to fans in September
Football supporters could be back inside English stadiums in time for the start of the 2020-21 season, with sources telling ESPN that there is a growing band of EFL clubs determined to push for social distancing measures to be relaxed by the UK government.
Both the EFL and Premier League are expected to announce on Friday that next season will kick off on Sept. 12 — the date could be brought forward by 24 hours to accommodate a televised game — but government guidance is pointing to fans gradually being allowed back into games from October.
Sources have said, however, that senior figures from EFL clubs watched with interest as Paris Saint-Germain hosted Celtic at Parc des Princes in a friendly on Tuesday in front of 5,000 spectators.
While Premier League clubs are also keen for fans to return as soon as possible, there is a greater need within the EFL for paying spectators due to the much smaller pool of funds available to the 72 clubs from the league’s broadcasting deal.
Sources have told ESPN that clubs need clarity in order to sell season tickets to fans and there is a hope that progress can be made in terms of persuading the government to unlock the turnstiles in mid-September rather than waiting for October. — Mark Ogden