There may be more than two months to go, but naming the Premier League XI of the season already seems easy enough. It’s Liverpool.

Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Mane, Firmino, Salah.

There is not a single player in Jurgen Klopp’s starting team who is not the supreme performer in his position. With one exception.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Kevin De Bruyne is the only star who deserves to be in a Liverpool-dominated Team of the Year

How to find room for arguably the world’s finest midfielder right now? Who loses out to Kevin De Bruyne*, the one player it is worth breaking up Klopp’s Invincibles to accommodate.

De Bruyne was quite brilliant again in Wednesday’s win over Real Madrid, just as he has been quite brilliant all season. In team sports, however, sometimes an outstanding individual contribution can be overwhelmed.

Ian Woosnam won four and drew one of his five Ryder Cup matches in 1993 and finished on the losing side. De Bruyne’s City are 22 points behind Liverpool. But he would get in the Reds’ team. 

He would get in any team, certainly Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s. And, in the present climate, that must be a worry for City.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

The mercurial Belgian showed against Real Madrid he is the perfect Luka Modric replacement

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

De Bruyne rose to the occasion under the lights inside the famous Bernabeu, as he often does

Raheem Sterling’s potential move to Spain has been making headlines recently, and that will almost certainly be the drawn-out transfer saga of the summer. Sterling’s arrival as a substitute at the Bernabeu on Wednesday helped changed the game.

Yet there might not have been a contest by then without De Bruyne. It was an excellent team display from City, but De Bruyne’s regular interventions were what kept Real Madrid at bay. 

As good as he is, Sterling is replaceable — particularly for the money he will attract. De Bruyne is not.

There were moments this week watching him in opposition to Luka Modric that resembled a changing of the guard. De Bruyne is exactly what Madrid need right now. He is what any team need, really, even Liverpool. Klopp may have his midfield set up for high energy, but De Bruyne provides that, too.

When he surged past two defenders before delivering the cross for City’s equaliser, it was an aesthetic and athletic triumph. Like all the best players of this modern generation, he is a worker. De Bruyne could thrive in a Klopp team, without question. He tried to sign him at Borussia Dortmund in 2013.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

A space in the midfield between Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson is up for grabs

There has been no suggestion so far that De Bruyne’s commitment to City has changed, more that it is presumed a player of his talent would not wish to be out of the action for long. And the Champions League is where it is at — even Manchester City’s fans have realised that now.

De Bruyne signed a six-year contract in January 2018, so roughly four years remain, but it is already being claimed in Belgium that two years outside Europe would cost him £2.5million in bonuses. So somebody is putting that about, probably an agent: it usually is.

De Bruyne will be 29 in the summer — so potentially 31 by the time City return to Champions League football if UEFA’s ban holds. No matter his contract, keeping him will take all of the board’s negotiating skills.

Clubs endure, particularly rich ones, and City will come again. Retaining De Bruyne, however, smooths the return almost as much as securing Pep Guardiola. He is the crown jewel — the player the next stage of evolution should be built around.

If Guardiola stays and City can thrive domestically next season — simply insisting they will overturn the ban cannot be factored in as reality for now — it is perhaps not impossible.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

With a potential Barcelona move, De Bruyne’s vision could give Lionel Messi a new lease of life

As for Madrid, Barcelona, even Liverpool, they would be mad if they did not at least consider trying their luck for De Bruyne this summer.

His vision could give Lionel Messi a new lease of life, make the transition from Modric straightforward, even give Klopp’s midfield the genius spark it is without. This is a seminal Liverpool team and only one player could invade it. Incredibly, De Bruyne would make the perfect XI even better.

* It’s Fabinho. He has started 13 league games to Jordan Henderson’s 22 and Georginio Wijnaldum’s 26.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Fabinho has been excellent but would lose his place to De Bruyne after playing fewer games

The game is rigged for United’s failings

So blatant is the elite’s corruption of the concept of financial fair play that Manchester United can preview plans for huge transfer spending in the summer on the day they reveal debts of £391million, with cash reserves at their lowest level in five years.

Ed Woodward, the chief executive, even had the brass neck to lecture on the benefits of FFP for the industry. If by industry he means useless Manchester United, he has a point.

Woodward’s club could come fifth this season and make the Champions League. And they are not going to let falling revenue and rising debt stand between them and moves for the marquee names at Leicester and Aston Villa, either. It is always spend, spend, spend at United because that is the way David Gill and his elite allies have rigged the game.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

David Gill and his elite allies seem to have rigged the game to suit the most decorated names

If Brendan Rodgers wanted to build expensively around James Maddison, or Villa wished to invest once more to hold on to Jack Grealish, there are plenty of rules in place to restrain them, but Manchester United’s politicians have ensured none apply to the type of debt the Glazers run up.

‘I see a strong commitment from UEFA to ensure that FFP continues to deliver the benefits it clearly has in the industry,’ said Woodward.

They do not even bother hiding the game these days. It is all out there, in the open, like in Goodfellas. ‘To me, it meant being somebody in a neighbourhood that was full of nobodies,’ says Henry Hill. ‘If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.’

That is Manchester United. They can be £391m in debt, take your best player and it is all financial fair play. It is just the little clubs that have to live life like schnooks.

Tragic Bradford fire could have happened to any club; fans must wake up 

The awful truth of the Bradford fire disaster is that it could have happened anywhere. In 1985, there were a lot of grounds like Valley Parade: old wooden stands and residues of rubbish scattered around in dusty, long-forgotten corners.

Safety standards were not what they are now. A specific set of avoidable circumstances caused the tragedy, but there but for the grace of God…

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

The awful truth of the 1985 Bradford fire disaster is that it could have happened anywhere

So it is particularly depressing that Newport County felt moved to apologise to Bradford for their fans’ crass chants about the disaster when the teams met last Saturday.

There should be empathy among supporters at least, an appreciation of shared experience and that tragedy is felt by all. Those doing the singing might not have been around 35 years ago, but that is no excuse. 

This is not even about being kind, as the latest glib hashtag advises. It is more about being human.

There has to be a process to stop Rudiger standing alone 

It was horrible that Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger was targeted by Tottenham fans last week, having reported an instance of racial abuse he insists he heard when the teams met earlier in the season.

Rudiger says the negative reaction made him feel alone in pushing back against racism. He spoke movingly about his feelings having encountered such an ignorant response.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Antonio Rudiger says negative reaction made him feel alone in pushing back against racism

Yet what are the authorities to do, when no evidence could be found to support his claim? It is not as if the police did not try to substantiate the allegation, and they can hardly pull some random patsy from the crowd to take the fall.

There has to be a process, and sometimes it does not please, or tie up every loose end. The reaction of some Tottenham fans was despicable and the club should speak up on that. But, beyond, there really isn’t anywhere to go

Ighalo trending boast is trumped up tosh 

Richard Arnold, managing director of Manchester United, seemed inordinately proud that the recruitment of Odion Ighalo got the club trending on Twitter, even if many of the tweets would have been along the lines of ‘Ighalo? WTF?’

‘He was the top trend worldwide,’ Arnold crowed, pointing out that, on January 31, the signing beat President Trump’s impeachment and Britain’s formal 11pm exit from the European Union.

Big deal. Any idiot can trend on Twitter and for the most ridiculous reasons. In the early hours of Sunday, November 24, we returned from holiday. Due on a Sky panel discussion programme, Sunday Supplement, that morning, I pulled on a pair of jeans, grabbed whatever top was clean and ironed and headed to the studio.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Odion Ighalo trended worldwide after his Man United move, above Brexit and Donald Trump

By the end of the show I was aware that this casually considered ensemble had caused controversy. It seems that when the Great British public are sat in front of the television in their pyjamas, scratching themselves and yawning at 10am on a Sunday, they do like the people they are watching witter about football to be formally attired.

A chap wearing a Chicago Cubs hooded top affronts their delicate sensibilities.

By midday, this sartorial outrage was the No 1 trending topic on Twitter and a friend sent the screenshot to prove it.

This was the morning the Conservative Party launched their manifesto for what many regarded as the most important general election in almost half a century. So if Manchester United are setting store by what trends on Twitter, they are in more trouble than anyone realises. It is a playground, nothing more.

Copenhagen plan laced in self-interest 

Among numerous proposals for a revamped Champions League is one known as The Copenhagen Plan.

Submitted by FC Copenhagen last August, it would rank entrants from one to 79 according to their performance over the last 10 seasons. Numbers 79 to 58 would enter the first round of qualifying, the next 13 sides would arrive at round two, 12 more teams at the third qualifying stage, 12 in the final play-offs and the top 20 would go straight into the group stage.

The idea is to benefit teams that consistently qualify, but whose coefficient ranking is hindered by poor performances from other clubs in their leagues. Like Copenhagen, Ajax and Celtic, who all support it. One day there will be a proposal from a club that isn’t shot through entirely with self-interest, but it will not be any day soon.

Crocked Lewandowski still leagues ahead

Not only did Robert Lewandowski destroy Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, it now transpires he did so with a broken leg. Tests after the game showed a fracture of the tibia at the left knee.

Marcos Alonso was sent off struggling to get the better of Lewandowski with minutes to go and Bayern Munich 3-0 up.

Even with a significant injury and the tie almost certainly won, the Pole did not ease up. What a player he is.

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Not only did Robert Lewandowski destroy Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, he also did so injured

Now it’s Hearn’s turn to wait 

Eddie Hearn’s impatient desire for Tyson Fury to make himself available to fight Anthony Joshua is rather ironic. 

Hearn had many chances to make that match and never seemed very keen. Fury and Deontay Wilder then went ahead without him, risking their reputations, with great consequence in Wilder’s case.

If the pair are now happy to leave Joshua’s camp to stew a while, is it any wonder?

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

It is no wonder Eddie Hearn is being made to wait by Tyson Fury over an Anthony Joshua fight

Coronavirus concerns 

Those who attend sports events are increasingly worried about coronavirus. In the last two weeks, my job has required trips to Madrid, back to London, to Las Vegas, to London again and now Madrid once more. 

Every day mingling in big crowds, big airports, big hotels, big melting pots of sniffling humanity. Fortunately, I recently took delivery of a heavy-duty protective mask, very strong, very durable, which its owner says he no longer has use for. The only drawback is it weighs 45lb… 

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Deontay Wilder’s outlandish mask and outfit prior to his Las Vegas bout courted controversy

More controversy for Mo 

Controversy around Mo Farah continues, with further allegations in a Panorama investigation broadcast this week. 

Interviewed for the programme, former UK Athletics chief Ed Warner admitted he asked Farah to break from his coach Alberto Salazar after the World Championships in 2015. Salazar was subsequently banned for four years for doping, although he is appealing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

UK Athletics had previously defended Salazar, who was consultant to their distance runners between 2013 and 2017. So why was Warner asking for a separation two years into that period, and why did the organisation continue endorsing this association if there were suspicions?

Kevin De Bruyne would improve Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Man City should be worried

Mo Farah was asked, but not told, to break from his coach Alberto Salazar back in 2015

Warner stayed on until 2017, two years after his initial conversation with Farah about Salazar. If he had concerns, why didn’t he make a stand?

The clue is in the language — Warner asking Farah to separate, rather than giving a definitive order. That might have sparked confrontation but at least it would have shown leadership. It is what UK Athletics have lacked for many years, which is why the sport is now in crisis.

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