Sarri requests Higuain, Mertens & Koulibaly as Chelsea talks speed up

Chelsea have spoken to prospective new manager Maurizio Sarri about his transfer preferences as he targets a host of Napoli stars from past and present, Goal understands.

Talks over a deal to appoint Sarri to replace Antonio Conte continue to progress positively and, in conversations with Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia, he has stated his admiration of various Napoli stars, including Kalidou Koulibaly, Elseid Hysaj, Piotr Zielinski and Dries Mertens.

However, Chelsea will have the final say on transfers, just as they did with Conte and remain cautious about offering players aged over 30 a contract lasting longer than one year.

This policy may scupper Sarri’s interest in signing Belgium international Mertens and also Juventus striker Gonzalo Higuain, whose future with the Serie A champions is the source of renewed doubts.

Higuain retains a strong bond with Sarri from their time together at Napoli, despite controversially swapping the title challengers for their fierce rivals in the north of Italy.

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Koulibaly and Mertens both interested Chelsea in the past under Conte and the Senegal defender was the subject of an ultimately failed summer-long pursuit in

Napoli have always proved difficult to work with for Chelsea as discussions continue to remove Sarri from his contract, despite club president Aurelio De Laurentiis having already signed Carlo Ancelotti to replace him.

Sarri had a £7 million ($9.4m) release clause to be paid as compensation but that expired on May 31. Chelsea had sought to pay less than this clause, as they also face a possible £9m bill to remove Conte from his position as head coach.

Talks have continued between Sarri and Chelsea, as they work on their strategy to secure his appointment, although Laurent Blanc remains a frontrunner, should the negotiations collapse.

Chelsea have shown an interest in Nice’s Jean Michaël Seri and Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, but a lack of manager has seen all transfer activity slow down at the club.

Kalidou Koulibaly Napoli

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The club’s players remain in the dark over who the new coach will be and their own futures could be affected by the next appointment. The non-World Cup players have been told that they are due back for pre-season on July 2 without knowing who the next manager will be.

The situation around the head coach has delayed potential contract renewal talks for senior players, as well as the futures of those who are among the 35-man loan group.

Blues legend Gianfranco Zola, meanwhile, is being lined up for a role under Sarri and he will be offered an assistant manager position.

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‘Juventus signing Icardi is fantasy football’

Juventus general manager Beppe Marotta insists the club cannot sign Inter striker Mauro Icardi this summer, insisting reports suggesting such are “fantasy football”.

Juve have been linked with a move for the mercurial Argentina international, with several outlets suggesting that Gonzalo Higuain could move the other way.

Marotta, though, says such talk is nonsense, and has scotched any suggesting that Inter have entered into negotiations with Icardi, who scored 29 goals in 34 Serie A appearances this season.

“Juventus players are considered unsellable, up until the moment they ask to be sold,” he told reporters. “In the case of Higuain, even if he’s at the World Cup, we’ve received no such request.

“Icardi is a suggestion. Obviously we’re talking about an excellent player, one who belongs to Inter, and then there are these news reports that we’ve approached him.

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“All that falls into the realms of fantasy, fantasy football.”

Juve have confirmed the signing of goalkeeper Mattia Perin this summer, and are also hopeful of completing the acquisition of Emre Can from Liverpool on a free transfer.

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“We’re optimistic on Emre Can,” Marotta confirmed.

“We can say that the contact with his representatives has started and are going well. We hope we can reach a conclusion in 10 days.”

Juve won a seventh straight Scudetto in 2017-18, finishing four points ahead of second-placed Napoli.

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‘Anything can happen’ – Higuain offered no Juventus guarantees

Juventus will be addressing the issue of Gonzalo Higuain’s future once he returns from World Cup duty, claims club director John Elkann.

The Argentine has remained a prolific presence throughout his time in Turin, scoring 55 goals for the club since his €90 million (£79m/$105m) arrival.

Questions have, however, been asked of his ongoing presence at the Serie A champions as Juve contemplate freshening up their ageing squad.

Elkann has done little to curb the rumours by revealing that further talks will be held regarding the 30-year-old frontman after he has spearheaded Argentina’s quest for global glory this summer.

He told reporters on the Higuain speculation: “It’s very difficult to judge the transfer market in a World Cup year.

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“Anything can happen. We’ll see after the World Cup, but there’s not much I can say now.”

Elkann’s comments come in the wake of similar remarks made by Juve vice-president Pavel Nedved.

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He has also revealed that discussions will be held with Higuain and club officials once the experienced striker returns from international duty.

“We’re not worried, Higuain is one of our players and he’s under contract, we’ll see after the World Cup,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

Higuain is under contract until 2021 and he contributed another 23 goals to the Juve cause across all competitions in 2017-18, with those efforts enough to earn him a second Serie A and Coppa Italia double with the club.

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Allegri: Juventus fell asleep at half-time

Massimiliano Allegri noted “nothing is ever certain in football” after Juventus moved four points clear of Napoli in the Serie A title race with a dramatic Derby d’Italia win at Inter.

After taking an early lead, Juve fell behind 2-1 against their rivals, who were reduced to 10 men by Matias Vecino’s 18th-minute red card, in the second half.

But two goals in the last four minutes turned the match around. Juan Cuadrado’s cross deflected in off Inter defender Milan Skriniar, with Gonzalo Higuain then heading home the winner from a Paulo Dybala free-kick.

Juve now hold the advantage as they hunt a seventh straight Scudetto, although Napoli – 1-0 victors in Turin last weekend – can maintain the pressure by winning away to Fiorentina on Sunday.

Allegri, who was dismissed for encroaching on to the field in the aftermath of Higuain’s winner, knows the heat will be one in the closing run of the season.

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“It was a wonderful evening of football between two teams who needed to win and went all out,” Allegri said to Mediaset Premium after a breathless finale at San Siro on Saturday.

“We were aggressive and played well throughout the first half, but we fell asleep in the dressing room [at half-time] and ended up behind.

“We kept putting crosses in when we should have passed it around the box to tire them out. Inter played well, but got tired in the end, crumbled physically and we took advantage.

“It’s another step towards the Scudetto, even if it remains very difficult. Nothing is ever certain in football. I knew it would be tough and in the final four rounds there is always more pressure than when you play in September.

“Even a side with great mental strength will have moments where they lose confidence. Fortunately, the lads have found it again and we turned it around.”

Gonzalo Higuain Juventus Inter Serie A

Higuain’s first goal since mid-March gave Juventus a boost in the Scudetto battle against his former club Napoli, who struck a 90th-minute winner in last weekend’s meeting of the top two.

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“This is football,” the striker told Mediaset Premium . “We lost at the last minute [against Napoli], but this time we turned it around with hunger, pride, thirst for victory.

“We will fight to the death to win. Inter played a great game, and were a man down, but it was fundamental to win and there are another three to go. It’s a great confidence boost.”

Juve face Bologna, Roma and Verona in their final three matches of the Serie A campaign, while Napoli take on Torino, Sampdoria and Crotone after Sunday’s clash with Fiorentina, leaving little room for error from either side. 

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