Man United rival Chelsea in Rice battle, Spurs players' surprise over Bale

Will UCL football influence Declan Rice's transfer decision? (1:16)

Mark Ogden suggests the chance of UCL football could be a factor for Rice when deciding between clubs. (1:16)

Manchester United are monitoring West Ham's Declan Rice -- ESPN's Insider Notebook has the latest: PLUS: Tottenham players are confused over Gareth Bale's role at the club.

Jump to: Spurs players surprised over Mourinho's Bale stance | USMNT star teams up with Messi's brother | Botman in demand | Chelsea want Giroud stay | Old Trafford pitch perfect

Man United rival Chelsea for Rice

Manchester United are prepared to rival Chelsea for West Ham midfielder Declan Rice next summer, sources told ESPN.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is keen to continue his overhaul of the squad at the end of the season with a forward, central defender and a defensive midfielder his priorities. January is not expected to be a busy month in terms of outgoings, though United have rubber-stamped Amad Diallo's move from Serie A side Atalanta and a number of fringe players, including defender Marcos Rojo and goalkeeper Sergio Romero, could leave.

Rice, 22, is among the options in midfield for the summer and sources told ESPN he is aware of the interest, although United accept Chelsea are in pole position should he be allowed to leave West Ham in the summer. The England international would command a large fee as he has a contract at West Ham until 2024, with the option of another year. Sources have told ESPN that the Hammers hope a £70 million fee would be enough to ward off interest from interested parties.

- Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
- Marcotti: Why Man United leading the way matters
- Ogden: United must pass title test at Liverpool

United are willing to spend ahead of next season but executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has told Solskjaer and his staff he will continue to be cautious with club funds while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing.

Whether or not Solskjaer prioritises signing a central midfielder will depend on Paul Pogba's immediate future. The Frenchman has found his best form since agent Mino Raiola declared his intention to move the 27-year-old to a new club although sources told ESPN that no fresh talks over a new contract are planned.

Pogba has 18 months left on his existing deal but United have doubts whether suitors Juventus and Real Madrid could afford a significant fee and the midfielder's substantial wages after being hit by the pandemic. -- Rob Dawson

Spurs players surprised over Mourinho's Bale omission

Jose Mourinho's sparing use of Gareth Bale has taken several Tottenham players by surprise, sources told ESPN.

The 31-year-old's return to north London on a season-long loan from Real Madrid was heralded as a landmark homecoming, yet he has made just four Premier League appearances and only one start since re-joining the club in September.

- Olley: Spurs too reliant on Kane and Son
- ESPN+ viewer's guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more

Bale arrived with a knee problem and required an extended period to get up to speed, but remained an unused substitute in key matches against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal during November and early December, despite being fully fit.

Sources told ESPN that Spurs players have been impressed with Bale's performance level in training, with some expressing sympathy that he has not been more regularly involved.

Having recently recovered from a calf problem, Bale was overlooked again in Wednesday's 1-1 draw against Fulham, with Mourinho instead bringing on Erik Lamela and Carlos Vinicius after Fulham equalised with 16 minutes remaining.

There is no suggestion Bale is unhappy -- and a poor performance against Leicester before Christmas is thought to still linger in Mourinho's memory -- but teammates expect him to play a more influential role in the second half of the campaign.

Bale's performances will determine whether Spurs take up the option of another season on loan. Both parties are open to the possibility but the Welshman's game-time will likely have to increase to make it viable. -- James Olley

Barcelona's Konrad teams up with Messi's brother

Barcelona and United States international Konrad de la Fuente has taken on Lionel Messi's brother as his agent, sources confirmed to ESPN.

De la Fuente, 19, made his first-team debut earlier this season and won his first cap for the USMNT against Wales in November. The 19-year-old is one of several young players at Barca who have been chased by the game's biggest agents.

- Laurens: How PSG plan to reunite Messi and Neymar

This particular race has been won by Rodrigo Messi, who worked as an advisor to players and as an agent for several years, including Ansu Fati before the Spain international decided to take on super-agent Jorge Mendes. Another of Barca's youngsters who was highly sought-after was Ilaix Moriba, who ultimately signed with the Stellar Group.

De la Fuente signed a new contract at Camp Nou in June, keeping him at the club until 2022. The deal includes a €50 million release clause, rising to €100m when he's officially promoted to the first team -- he is still registered for Barca B -- as well as the option to extend the terms by an additional two years. Before agreeing to the deal, he had considered his future, with sources telling ESPN he had an attractive offer in Germany from Hertha Berlin.

Barca convinced him to remain by promising him a path to the first team and he has since impressed coach Ronald Koeman, earning praise in preseason and in two appearances in the Champions League at the end of last year. -- Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens

Botman unlikely to join Liverpool this month

Lille centre-back Sven Botman is on the radar of a string of clubs in England, sources told ESPN, but the Ligue 1 club are desperate to keep him in this month's window. Rumours of Liverpool making a move this month for the 21-year-old appear wide of the mark, with another source insisting there has been no contact between the two clubs.

Botman impressed for Heerenveen last season, on loan from Ajax, and moved to Lille in the summer as a replacement for Gabriel, who joined Arsenal. The 21-year-old signed a five-year deal at the Ligue 1 club and has shone this term with Lille in third, one point off leaders Lyon.

Sources said the Netherlands Under-20 international is likely to command a fee around £40 million if he was to become available and that various top clubs in England had expressed an interest in him. -- Julien Laurens

Giroud to remain at Chelsea despite Serie A interest

Chelsea want to keep Olivier Giroud until the end of the season, sources told ESPN, despite interest from Inter and Juventus.

Timo Werner's arrival in the summer pushed Giroud down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge but the Germany international has struggled, along with manager Frank Lampard's other recruits. Giroud has scored seven goals in his last seven appearances and emerged as a key player for his under-pressure boss.

- Olley: Are summer signings to blame for Lampard's struggles?
- Chelsea's longest-serving player sold after 3 games in 10 years

The French international looked set to leave Chelsea last January as he looked for regular playing time ahead of Euro 2020. The coronavius pandemic led to the postponement of the tournament, now scheduled for this summer, and sources said France coach Didier Deschamps is likely to include him in Les Bleus squad.

The 34-year-old's contract expires in the summer and he is free to negotiate a contract with clubs outside of England this month, but Lampard will be able to count on Giroud for the remainder of the campaign as he looks to get Chelsea's inconsistent season on the right track. -- Julien Laurens

Pitch perfect for Solskjaer's title-chasing United

Manchester United are reaping the benefits of a gamble they took on the Old Trafford pitch over the summer, sources told ESPN.

Head groundsman Tony Sinclair and his staff decided to relay the pitch in the offseason despite time pressures caused by the reduced break between campaigns.

And sources told ESPN it has paid off; the surface is coping well with the rigours of the winter schedule, in comparison to other Premier League clubs who are struggling to keep pitches in top condition after deciding to stick with the same ones as last season.

Sinclair and his staff were able to relay the pitch in just nine weeks -- it usually takes closer to 11 weeks to do the job in a normal summer -- and sources told ESPN that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been impressed with its strong condition across the festive period.

Sinclair and his team won Premier League pitch of the year in 2019 after being chosen by referees and match delegates. -- Rob Dawson